Racing: Fallon's gifted guidance the key to a very public gamble

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There were 20 horses in the Derby parade, 20 story lines, and only one horse would be good enough to snatch the happy ending. Going down ninth, Kris Kin received an encouraging slap from Sir Michael Stoute and cantered around to the start with massive support from betting shop punters whose sudden enthusiasm for the American-bred chestnut colt had seen him tumble from 14-1 to 6-1 in the betting. "Within 10 minutes of opening up we'd taken more than six figures," one bookmaker's representative would sorrowfully say.

That there was no professional money for Kris Kin told its own story. Removed from the original list of Derby entries last October on the grounds that he was too inexperienced for such a race, Kris Kin came into the reckoning only a week ago when Stoute persuaded his owner, Saeed Suhail, to take a £90,000 supplementary gamble. Even then, Kris Kin remained well outside the short prices but on the day it was different, money pouring in on what Stoute described as the "Fallon factor". Almost injured beyond repair following a heavy fall at Royal Ascot in 2000, beset by personal problems that resulted in a spell of voluntary rehabilitation earlier this year, Kieren Fallon was the key to a massive public gamble.

Arriving at the course, I fell briefly into conversation with a stranger who spoke from the driving seat of a parked car surrounded by sheets of printed information. His main fancy was The Great Gatsby, one of four in the field trained by Aidan O'Brien, but he agreed that Kris Kin was interesting. "With Fallon in the saddle, you can't write him off," he agreed.

Kris Kin almost was. It would be revealed that a serious doubt existed when he went lame on Thursday. Dismissed as only a slight worry by Stoute - "he was fine an hour later" - the truth of it was that Kris Kin's affected joint was kept in ice overnight and wasn't sure to run until he cantered on Friday morning.

Unaware of the problem, punters waded in with such gusto for the Stoute-Fallon combination that Kris Kin was in to third favourite by the time he appeared in the parade ring, although it was noted by the eagle-eyed that he wasn't entirely comfortable during the preliminaries. Could a horse making only his fourth appearance on a race track cope with Epsom's contours and the traffic, even with Fallon's gifted guidance. "One of the laziest horses at home I've ever trained," Stoute would say after a stunning victory.

I put the question to a good judge of horseflesh whose advice was to refrain from betting on a wide-open race. "With Fallon on board Kris Kin has as good a chance as anything in the field, but to my mind this is a race to watch. Keep your money in your pocket," he said.

Fallon, meanwhile, was giving Kris Kin every opportunity to settle down at the start, letting his legs hang free until the horse was nudged into the starting gate. "I didn't know much about him," he said.

If horse and jockey were comparative strangers they proved to be a winning combination. "As they came down the hill I knew we had a real chance," Stoute would say. "At the two-furlong marker I was excited enough to give him a shout."

Racing throws up many stories. Following a failure at Goodwood last year, the word was that Saeed Suhail had lost all faith in Fallon, considering him to be unreliable. At the time perhaps a justifiable conclusion. It was turned around by the jockey's realisation that it was time to put his life in order. The outcome was a riding feat to match any in the Derby's long history. "One of the greatest Derby rides you'll ever see," Stoute said.

While in the United States last week, I followed with great interest the enormous attention paid to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Funny Cide, who was going for the Triple Crown in Saturday's 135th running of the Belmont Stakes. Last achieved by Affirmed under Steve Cauthen in 1978, it proved to be beyond the evens favourite who finished third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted.

I was sorely tempted to stay in New York for the Belmont on the basis that it might provide better entertainment than what appeared to be a lacklustre Derby. Fortunately, I came home. The great old race came good, as did a great jockey.