Racing: Fallon the brilliant champion saddled with wayward streak

Rarely has a jockey endured the kind of bungee-jump career that Kieren Fallon has. His sensational performances in the saddle have been matched by an almost preternatural ability to be dragged into headlines and incidents so harmful that they would have seen off lesser men.

Rarely has a jockey endured the kind of bungee-jump career that Kieren Fallon has. His sensational performances in the saddle have been matched by an almost preternatural ability to be dragged into headlines and incidents so harmful that they would have seen off lesser men.

Unless anyone can prove otherwise, Fallon is an innocent man. But that is not to say he has a stainless cv. He has had frequent brushes with racing's authorities, most notably when banned for six months in 1994 for dragging another rider, Stuart Webster, off his horse.

Ironically, that incident was the making of a man who has been six-times champion Flat jockey in Britain and has established a clear lead in this year's title race. He spent his suspension riding work in the United States, a land where the stop-watch is key to success, much more so than in Europe. Fallon benefited hugely from learning to judge exactly what pace he was travelling on a horse. His many fans in Britain's betting shops would testify to a tactical sharpness that, as much as his incredible natural strength, has made him the high-class jockey he is today.

It seems incredible to think now that Fallon was a virtual "journeyman", although a very effective one, when he was plucked from the northern race riding circuit in 1997 to become first jockey to Henry Cecil in Newmarket. Although Cecil's career is currently on the wane, he was then a peerless operator: a suave, charismatic figure, confident; the antithesis of Fallon, in fact.

Fallon suffered some inevitable teething problems in a handful of top-class races when riding for Cecil, but his raw ability always stood out. So much so he won his first of three Derbys on the Cecil-trained Oath in 1999, when the jockey and trainer won three of the first four Classics (Wince in the 1,000 Guineas and Ramruma in the Oaks).

But Fallon's tendency to pair triumph with disaster soon surfaced again. He was sacked by Cecil in the same year as Oath's Epsom victory, the cause of friction appearing to be a tabloid report that Cecil's wife Natalie had enjoyed a romp in the showers with an unnamed jockey. Fallon has consistently denied it was him.

Such is Fallon's talent that Cecil's Newmarket rival Sir Michael Stoute quickly secured the jockey on a retainer. The intense hunger Stoute shares with his stable jockey has led them down a gloriously successful path, which has yielded Fallon two further Derby wins on Kris Kin in 2003 and North Light this year.

Ironically, Fallon, a man of more fragile confidence than his hard, scarred face and street-wise demeanour would suggest, once felt so low at an earlier point in his career that he planned to retire from race-riding in the hope of getting a job as a work rider to Stoute. A few winners materialised, and he never made that call.

The two men have formed a steely and successful partnership, although it has been strained at times by Fallon's magnetic pull towards controversy. Two of Stoute's high profile owners, the Aga Khan and Saeed Suhail, an associate of Dubai's ruling family, the Maktoums, have both expressed dissatisfaction with Fallon's riding and asked that he not ride their horses. But in both cases, Stoute has waited patiently for the wounds to heal. Fallon has been riding for both owners this season.

All the same, it will trouble Stoute, who also trains for the Queen, that Fallon finds himself the subject of unfavourable, front-page coverage twice within six months.

In March, in the wake of an ill-judged ride that earned him a 21-day ban for failing to obtain the best possible placing in a race at Lingfield, Fallon was accused of being racing's "Mr Fixit" by the News of the World. Fallon strongly denied such a charge, he and his lawyer pointing out that nothing in the paper's five-page report on Fallon warranted such a moniker. Almost everyone within horseracing defended Fallon, but a Jockey Club charge of bringing racing into disrepute hangs over him none the less.

It is extremely unfortunate for racing's overall reputation that it has as champion jockey a man who attracts such controversy, however innocent he may be. In 2002, he was the subject of further damaging allegations - again hotly denied - that he associated with known Triad members during a winter spell riding in Hong Kong.

In 2000, his career had seemed to be in ruins - for an equally unforeseen but somehow more acceptable reason. A fall at Royal Ascot, which left him trampled by horses, shredded his shoulder and left Fallon fearing he would never ride again.

Stoute, whose respect for his stable jockey's riding abilities should never be underestimated, straight away contacted one of his owners, Lord Weinstock, to ensure Fallon received the best Harley Street treatment. Again, during the jockey's convalescence, Stoute, a cricket enthusiast, fixed up Fallon with the West Indies' cricket physio. For that, Fallon credits the trainer with saving his career.

Fallon, with Stoute's advice, support and backing, acted himself to save his career again last year, when he underwent rehab for alcohol abuse in his native Ireland. It was just one more astonishing chapter in the life of a man of professional brilliance but personal waywardness.

THE OTHER PROFESSIONALS UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

Karl Burke (Trainer, Age 41)

The former jump jockey has held a training licence since 1990 and handles a string of 70 horses at Spigot Lodge in Middleham, North Yorkshire. Is enjoying his best season to date with 52 winners, although his finest hour came at the 1998 Ayr Gold Cup when he saddled the first two home, Always Alight and Daring Destiny. Was involved in controversy last November when Miles Rodgers, a director of Platinum Racing, was warned off for two years by the Jockey Club after being found guilty of laying Million Percent, trained by Burke, to lose at Wolverhampton.

Fergal Lynch (Jockey, Age 26)

One of the most talented jockeys in the weighing-room, the Irishman has earned a reputation as being something of a clone of Fallon, both in his driving riding style and in his fiery temperament. He was banned for six days last year after admitting being abusive towards stewards, but earlier in the season had proved his horsemanship when winning on subsequent Derby winner Kris Kin. Had his best campaign in 2002 when he racked up 100 winners as well as finishing fourth on Jelani in the Derby. Has failed to maintain that level of performance since, riding 32 winners last season and 43 so far this time around.

Darren Williams (Jockey, Age 22)

The least known of the jockeys arrested yesterday, the young Englishman has nevertheless established himself as a popular jockey on the northern tracks over the past few years. Riding primarily for Burke as the stable jockey at Spigot Lodge, Williams has notched up 43 winners so far this year, which is easily his best season so far. Was also involved in the Million Percent controversy last November, when an owner was warned off for laying the horse to lose, although he was cleared of doing anything untoward by a panel who stated that he had "ridden the horse on its merits".

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