What may be the final nail in Kieren Fallon's riding coffin was hammered in yesterday by the French racing authorities. France Galop, the Gallic equivalent of the Horserace Regulatory Authority, has banned the troubled jockey for six months for testing positive for a prohibited substance.
The French ban, set to begin today week, will be reciprocated in other countries, including Fallon's native Ireland and Britain. Fallon is currently barred from riding in this country because he has been charged by police with conspiracy to defraud Betfair punters but even if he was cleared of those criminal charges the drugs ban would still apply.
After suspending Fallon pending his trial, the HRA did not ask other racing jurisdictions to follow suit. Some did - after being rejected in Chicago, the rider sat out the Breeders' Cup meeting in Kentucky earlier this month and learned on Monday that he would not be welcome at Hong Kong's forthcoming major festival - but Ireland's Turf Club, home of Fallon's employers, the Co Tipperary-based Ballydoyle/Coolmore operation, did not impose a ban.
Neither did the French; the six-time champion's latest misdemeanour stems from a routine test after riding the Aidan O'Brien-trained Ivan Denisovich into eighth place in the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly in July.
Fallon tested positive for a metabolite of a prohibited substance, which is classified as a strict liability offence. The substance was not named and the traces were small - so low, according to an expert witness, Dr Michael Lewis, "as to admit that the possibility that the test result arose solely as a consequence of environmental contact" - but the serious status of the offence means a ban is a no-option consequence, regardless of cause or circumstance.
Henri Pouret of France Galop said: "Kieren Fallon has been notified that he has a suspension of six months after he tested positive for a prohibited substance. He has the right to appeal but both A and B samples tested positive." If Fallon opts to appeal, he has until midnight tomorrow to do so.
Fallon has been accused of many things during his turbulent career, but this is the first time he has failed a drugs test. His solicitor, Christopher Stewart-Moore, said: "Over the course of his long riding career, Kieren Fallon has been tested by authorities all over the world and the results have always been negative. In this case, only trace levels were detected and these are considerably lower than generally accepted thresholds for positive results. Kieren is dismayed at this turn of events but understands that as it is a strict liability offence, France Galop has no alternative but to impose a suspension."
The ban will run until 6 June next year, the Wednesday after the Derby. Thus, Fallon will miss the first half of the European Classic season, putting his principal boss, John Magnier of Coolmore, in a difficult position, though the operation is, at this stage, standing by their man. A spokesperson for Coolmore said last night: "John Magnier, Derrick Smith, Michael Tabor and Aidan O'Brien have learned of Kieren Fallon's suspension by France Galop. During that period, they will continue to use the best jockey available to them."
The Coolmore operation have recently called on the services of the veteran Mick Kinane in Britain and the United States.
The Irish authorities confirmed that they would uphold the French punishment. Denis Egan, chief executive of the Irish Turf Club, said yesterday evening: "The stewards need to meet first but I would imagine he will be banned from riding in Ireland as well. The international jurisdictions sign up to an agreement that if something as straightforward as this happens, we follow their decision. As both ourselves and France Galop are signed up to the agreement it seems likely he will be banned from riding in Ireland."
Fallon, one of the most sublime talents to ever sit astride a horse, has already indicated that he was ready to call time on his career himself, mooting training as an alternative.
Before riding Yeats in the Melbourne Cup three weeks ago, he said: "With everything that's been thrown at me, I could just give up riding. Racing used to be so much more enjoyable but as a jockey the spotlight is on in a bad way, not a good way, now.
"My team need a jockey who is free to ride everywhere. And if the job went, I'd quit. I wouldn't carry on riding no-hopers round Listowel, not after riding favourites in the Classics."
Fallon's highs and lows: Career of a troubled rider
Born: 22 February, 1965, Crusheen, Co Clare, Ireland.
Early career: Hails from a family with no racing connections but joined Curragh trainer Kevin Prendergast on 17th birthday. In 1988 crossed Irish Sea to become apprentice to Yorkshire trainer Jimmy Fitzgerald.
Rough and tumble: In 1993 accepted job with Lynda Ramsden. As career set to take off, banned for six months for dragging jockey Stuart Webster off a horse after finish of a race at Beverley in 1994.
Big break: In 1996 appointed stable jockey to nine-times champion Henry Cecil. Won first Classic on Sleepytime in 1,000 Guineas, and then Oaks on Reams Of Verse.
Changes camp: Won Derby on Oath for Cecil in 1998, but split midway through season. Joined Newmarket rival Sir Michael Stoute in 2000. Get off to flying start in 2,000 Guineas with King's Best but fall at Royal Ascot causes injury to shoulder which almost ends his career.
Titled: Champion for sixth time in 2003, riding 221 winners, including Kris Kin in Derby.
Trouble brewing: In 2005 eased Ballinger Ridge in minor race at Lingfield, causing him to be caught on line. Suspended for three weeks and relinquishes crown to Frankie Dettori.
Arrested: In September 2004 arrested by police as part of race-fixing investigation. Eventually charged with conspiracy to defraud.
Back home: Leaves Stoute in 2005 to return to Ireland as rider for Aidan O'Brien. Wins Irish Derby in successive years on subsequent Arc winner Hurricane Run and Dylan Thomas.