Racing: Magnier backs Fallon 'every step of the way'

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The Independent Online

It is perfectly possible for something to look crooked, yet prove irreproachable in practice. Perhaps some such thought may have struck John Magnier as he watched Heart's Cry being saddled for that immortal shoot-out at Ascot on Saturday.

The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes had drawn together three aces of the global sport. There was Hurricane Run, representing Magnier and his partners in Coolmore Stud; Electrocutionist, for Coolmore's natural antagonists, the Maktoum family; and this colt, Heart's Cry, a Japanese champion whose sire, Sunday Silence, was no less phenomenal than Coolmore's own bedrock, Sadler's Wells.

It was a showdown that expressed the diversity of the modern Turf. And Magnier has no superior, anywhere, in its universal arts. He strolled over to where the Japanese were fussing around Heart's Cry. They stared at each other: the animal sleek and assertive, the stockman wearing that deadpan, appraising look, familiar at bloodstock auctions around the world.

As Heart's Cry was led to the parade ring, it seemed safe to assume that Magnier must have been rather disappointed. In the idiom of equine conformation, he walks "crooked in front".

So much of Magnier's business depends upon consistency between aesthetic and athletic paragons, yet here was one of those horses that can construct a great career upon foundations that would not satisfy a fastidious judge of horseflesh.

Certainly Heart's Cry went with terrific fluency in the race itself, and at that indelible moment when the three titans engaged, it briefly looked as though he might beat the others in comfort. In the event, however, the next 300 yards would instead demand attrition, and Heart's Cry could match neither the rally of Electrocutionist nor the decisive momentum finally achieved by Hurricane Run, who had been first off the bridle.

Though the media are often accused of building up reputations only to dismantle them, on the racecourse that is something they can normally leave to the horses themselves. This time, however, these undisputed herd-leaders did not let anyone down. As the pacemaker dropped meekly away, they had squared up like three enraged stags.

Of course, there were still some prepared to quibble. When Christophe Lemaire on Heart's Cry had gone to such lengths to pin Hurricane Run against the rail, they wondered why Frankie Dettori and Electrocutionist obliged Christophe Soumillon with the gap he desperately needed. The Godolphin horse was hanging left, true, but might not have done so had Dettori switched his whip.

Well, maybe so, though there did seem a hint of malice about the way Electrocutionist lunged towards Heart's Cry. Did he briefly cock his jaw towards Lemaire's leg? Anyhow, what kind of sophistry persuades people to be disappointed because the best horse in the race was slightly fortunate to get a run?

Far more fascinating, surely, to reflect on the difference between Soumillon and the rider he replaced on Hurricane Run. The Belgian champion was given a six-day suspension for his hectic use of the whip up the straight.

You can rest assured that Kieren Fallon would never have invited such a punishment in galvanising the colt to the same degree. For that is his unique strength: the commitment he commands from his mounts before resorting to the whip.

Fallon's absence overshadowed the celebrations of the Coolmore confederacy. Soumillon himself decorously extended his sympathy to Fallon, who instead spent the weekend riding in Ireland and Turkey, while Magnier accepted the cue to make his first public observations on the fact that his retained rider - by every civilised measure, innocent unless proven otherwise - has been banished from British racecourses pending his trial on a charge of conspiracy to defraud.

Though Fallon may not have the chance to clear his name for at least 18 months, Magnier confirmed his intention to persevere with him elsewhere, and to use the best available in Britain.

"Kieren's lawyers said that they can't believe it," Magnier said. "They said it's like a fairytale, like Alice In Wonderland. I just think it's really hard on the guy. He's at the age [41] when every year counts. If we didn't believe in him, we wouldn't try to help him. We're going to try to help him every step of the way. It's really for the lawyers now, but this is far from over."

While Fallon can look forward to resuming his partnership with Hurricane Run when the colt defends the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, those persecuting him will perhaps reflect anxiously on those words. Magnier is not a man in the habit of misjudging a crisis. He may well be wondering whether the police quite understand everything they see on a racecourse. For it is perfectly possible for something to look crooked, yet prove irreproachable in practice.

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