Racing: Horatio death haunts Fallon

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The Independent Online

A golden scene was grotesquely defaced by the accident that befell Horatio Nelson on Saturday, writes Chris McGrath. It had seemed a vintage Epsom moment. Beyond the rails - dazed by sunshine, drink and six goals for England - spectators on the open-top buses jumped up and down as four colts forged perhaps the best finish in Derby history. But a chill shadow spread rapidly as the injured colt was noticed standing forlornly by the two-furlong pole, especially among those who had observed Kieren Fallon anxiously trotting the colt round before the start.

Yesterday the jockey explained why he had been concerned, and also why he and Aidan O'Brien, the colt's trainer, - along with the course vet - had been satisfied that Horatio Nelson should take his chance. "I just felt he was a little flat," Fallon said. "He wasn't giving the same bounce he had done. But he was fine when I trotted him up and down a few times, in fact the more I trotted him the better he felt. If I wasn't happy I wouldn't have gone round on him.

"He travelled brilliantly on the snaff in the race. Then we went to go and challenge, and it happened. It must have been one of the uneven bits of ground you get on the camber at Epsom. He twisted a joint and that did it.

"George Baker [riding Rising Cross in the Oaks on Friday] did something at the same part of the straight. It doesn't take much when you are on the camber for a horse to lose its footing. The track rides like that. These things happen."

It would be the height of effrontery and ignorance for anyone to suggest that the decision to run was motivated by reckless greed. After all, if you want to be cynical, Horatio Nelson was already a precious stallion prospect, and nobody would take unnecessary risks with him. But if what happened was only a coincidence, it was a harrowing one - not just for those involved with the colt, but also for the good name of the sport. This trauma comes a fortnight after the Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, broke down in front of a similar crowd in the Preakness Stakes.

Horatio Nelson looked beaten in sixth when stumbling. Fallon immediately slithered off and held him as help arrived. Taken away in a horse ambulance, the colt was X-rayed. His left foreleg was fractured and, unlike Barbaro, there was no hope of saving him.

"He was one of the best little horses I have ever been around," Fallon said. "He wanted to do everything for you, that was his biggest strength. They're the horses you want to be associated with: the ones with great temperament who can't do enough for you."

Those poignant reflections make his demise all the more bitter. Only the previous day, Fallon had heightened his air of invincibility at Epsom with a runaway victory on Alexandrova in the Oaks. Yet he was reduced to a pitiable figure on Saturday, not least because there will be those who are pitiless in their judgement.

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