Racing: Fallon must now ride on in the face of adversity

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The Independent Online

The schism created within horseracing during the past week can be measured in many ways, though none quite as vivid as the fact that Kieren Fallon was able to ride in a Group One race in France yesterday. In Britain, for so long his dominion as champion jockey, he is an outcast, his licence suspended as a result of seismic events at a London police station last Monday.

Some might detect a certain irony in the fact that the colt he rode at Chantilly yesterday - albeit a long way behind that classy miler, Stormy River - should be named Ivan Denisovich. For all his horror over the way he is being treated, even Fallon might hesitate to compare the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA) with the prison camps in Siberia. Unmistakably, however, he can benefit from the example of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's character, a model of mental strength in adversity.

Ivan Denisovich survived by insisting on his humanity, wherever his punishment left even the narrowest opportunity. Ordered to perform manual labour, he would take pride in the quality of his masonry. For Fallon, the best way of preserving his dignity during the months ahead is to keep riding, wherever and whenever he is allowed.

In common with all those charged with conspiracy to defraud - including the jockeys Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams - Fallon has protested his innocence throughout. He was still coming to terms with the shock of being charged when, on Friday, a special HRA panel decided that none of them should ride in Britain pending their trial, which is unlikely to start before spring.

Fallon was aghast, claiming that his career would be "in ruins" if he could not get the verdict reversed. His petition will be heard by the HRA Appeal Board on Wednesday, after which his legal team could doubtless seek an alternative perspective from the High Court. They will be well aware of judicial reluctance to interfere with the way any sport is governed, however, and recourse to the European Court of Human Rights might take so long that the case would probably be upon him anyway.

Lynch and Williams are to be compensated at the equivalent rates to their insurance against injury, but no such provision was recommended for Fallon because he is licensed in Ireland, where the Turf Club has decreed him free to ride.

The crux of the matter is his contract with the owners of Coolmore Stud. Fallon is saying that he cannot expect them to support him anywhere, if he cannot ride for them in Britain. Clearly, he will not want to abandon that stance so long as he has a chance of turning over his suspension. Should he fail, however, he must take the Ivan Denisovich stand.

After all, if he is convinced of his innocence, he will expect the case against him to collapse. Though months of purgatory lie ahead, he would presumably expect to resume riding next summer. At 41, that is clearly a daunting prospect - but one he would certainly embrace if, say, recuperating from the sort of injury that nearly cost him the use of an arm five years ago. Nor would his comeback be as unfeasible as Lester Piggott's, aged 54, after two years in prison.

Fallon's lawyers implored the HRA panel to consider the evidence against him, so they might see how flimsy it was, or at least to postpone the suspension until an initial court hearing, which might conclude that he had no case to answer.

Very properly, the panel rejected these pleas, specifically confining their deliberations to the rights of a jockey to pursue his livelihood and any potential harm to the reputation of racing. As it happens, their conclusion had a slightly disingenuous flavour, because there is no mistaking its broader message. But if his legal team made those particular submissions in earnest, then Fallon must corroborate with a gesture of his own - with a show of self-belief on the racecourse. He must demonstrate a readiness to resume here the moment he is free to do so.

Of course, it is not that simple. Much depends on his patrons at Coolmore. They have already given him their public support, but as things stand he could not have his contract renewed at the end of the season.

He was signed in the first place on the guarantee that his arrest would not yield charges. His patrons may be so exasperated by what has happened that they will not persevere with him. On the other hand, men like John Magnier take pragmatism into the realm of genius.

They know that they have the most ruthlessly effective rider of his generation, and how very hard it would be to replace him. Fallon can continue to make all the difference in pivotal races - such as the Irish Champion Stakes or the Arc - but in the meantime their choice of substitutes in Britain will include the likes of Johnny Murtagh, who has a superb record on their horses.

If Fallon cannot clear his name, they will be in no greater pickle than they would be anyway, if they felt it imperative to sign a replacement. If he can, it would certainly be in their own interest to have kept faith with him in the meantime.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Malakiya (Bath 3.45)

NB: Conkering (Windsor 8.05)

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