Racing: Fallon stands on the brink... 'Unless this suspension is lifted my career is in ruins'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The earthquake that ripped across the British Turf on Monday was possibly surpassed by its aftershock yesterday, when Kieren Fallon and the two other jockeys charged by police were told that they could not ride in Britain pending their trial.

There have been times in his career when Fallon has only ever seemed able to climb a ladder by first putting it into a hole, but this time even he seems to fear that there may be no way back. Announcing his determination to appeal against the verdict of the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA), the former champion jockey declared: "Unless my suspension is lifted, my career is in ruins."

On Monday Fallon, Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams were charged with conspiracy to defraud customers of the betting exchange Betfair. Among eight other individuals also charged as a result of a City of London Police investigation into allegations of race-fixing, was the trainer Alan Berry. All have protested their innocence. On Tuesday Berry had his licence restored by the same HRA panel, and the jockeys duly arrived at the HRA's headquarters optimistic of a similar decision.

Instead they were told that they would not be permitted to ride in Britain until their trial, which may be a full year away. Since Fallon's licence is Irish, he is technically entitled to continue riding in his homeland - and indeed in other jurisdictions, such as the United States - but he indicated he would not feel able to seek patronage from anyone while his name was blackened by suspension here. At 41 he is plainly at the crossroads.

In a statement issued through his solicitors, Fallon said: "I am confident that I have done nothing wrong, and my lawyers are confident that the case against me has no validity whatsoever. In fact, I am utterly amazed the police were able to charge me, based on the evidence I have seen and the questions that they have been asking me.

"My livelihood is dependent upon racing, and I will be appealing against this decision as it is extremely harsh and inconsistent given the verdict on Alan Berry earlier this week."

The panel that considered the case was convened under Sir Michael Connell, a former High Court judge, who will be well aware of judicial reluctance to intervene in the regulation of sport so long as the relevant authority can demonstrate its procedures to be fair and its conclusions proportionate. Fallon's initial recourse, however, must be the HRA's own Appeal Board.

It must be said that Connell laid the seeds of this decision when explaining Berry's reprieve as "proportionate", noting that Berry had been charged in connection with just one race - and also that he would be financially ruined by suspension. In contrast, the jockeys have been accused in connection with a number of races, over a period of 21 months. Connell urged the British Horseracing Board to compensate Lynch and Williams at the rate they would receive as insurance if injured. He did not make any such recommendation for Fallon, who has been told that he can continue earning in Ireland. Clearly Fallon has plenty of financial cushioning in any case.

As with Berry, Connell said that the panel had to balance the right of an individual to his livelihood, and the potential damage to the reputation of racing if the jockeys were permitted to continue riding. The conclusion this time did seem faintly self-conscious, suggesting a determination to prove the regulators' severity on any hint of corruption. After all, it is hard to imagine that any jockey can have ridden more scrupulously than would these men if appearing at Sandown today.

Connell emphasised that it was not the panel's place to consider the merit of the charges against them, even though Fallon's legal representatives had proposed examining the evidence against him to demonstrate "that it cannot succeed".

This fascinating disclosure was followed by another: "Alternatively, they have asked us to make no suspension, at least until they can make a submission that there is no case to answer at a plea-and-direction hearing before the trial judge."

The panel instead concerned itself with the public perceptions of the jockeys and their sport, given that the police had been advised they have sufficient prima-facie evidence to lay charges. It recognised the hardship facing the jockeys, but Connell spoke of "a strong likelihood that racing would be severely damaged both by the possibility of further race-fixing, and the perception of such; and by the adverse reaction of many members of the public to the concept that a jockey charged with an offence so close to the heart of the sport be permitted to continue".

By wielding the hickory in this way, the HRA has certainly raised the stakes for all concerned - not least the police, who have embarrassed themselves in the racing maze before. It is to be hoped they have a surer understanding of what they are doing this time.

If Fallon's fears are justified - if he cannot now salvage his career, no matter whether his claims of innocence are upheld by a court - then we may have seen the last of one of the greatest jockeys in history. For that to happen without foundation would be a scandal at least as odious as the one of which he has been accused.

'Any suspension will cause significant financial damage'... but no escape from ban

What the HRA Special Panel said about Fallon:

"We appreciate that an inability to ride in races in this country would be a very serious setback for Kieren Fallon. He is often put up by very distinguished yards in both high prestige and more ordinary races here; and his major retainer in Ireland often run horses here, frequently with a favourite's chance in Classic or Group Races.

"Letters we have seen show that these contacts still support him. He is now 41 years old and his career is at its height. He has been champion jockey in the UK on six occasions. To deprive him of the ability to ride here is highly detrimental to his interest.

"He will most probably lose the retainer at Coolmore after the end of the season. He is an important part of that operation riding potential future stallions as they develop through their racing careers. He is much valued by Coolmore, but they are a commercial concern and we are told that they are only contractually committed to him until the end of this season. We appreciate that any suspension would cause him significant financial damage and that a suspension will also have an adverse effect on others, including his employers and those who he supports."

Fallon's statement 'I'm devastated by the decision'

"I am obviously devastated by the decision. I always thought that a man was innocent until proved guilty.

"I cannot understand this decision as I am confident I have done nothing wrong, and my lawyers are confident the case against me has no validity whatsoever.

"I am utterly amazed the police were able to charge me based on the evidence I have seen and the questions that they have been asking me this year.

"My livelihood is dependent upon racing and I will be appealing against this decision as it is extremely harsh and inconsistent, given the HRA panel's verdict on Alan Berry this week.

"I am grateful for the support I have received from many trainers and owners around the world.

"However, unless my suspension is lifted my career is in ruins as I cannot ask owners or trainers to support me elsewhere when I am prevented from riding in the UK."

Three who decided Fallon's fate

The HRAspecial panel for this case was chaired by Sir Michael Connell, a former High Court judge. The other members were Michael Henriques, a businessman, farmer, and director of Cheltenham racecourse; and Ben Gunn, a former detective and chief constable who spent 26 years in the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.