Racing: Masterful performance sheds fresh light on a single-minded talent

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The Independent Online

Jockeys are not expected or asked to light up a room. They get paid to win races, not because they spread sunshine. You want a song, a dance, a laugh, head for a West End theatre.

Jockeys are not expected or asked to light up a room. They get paid to win races, not because they spread sunshine. You want a song, a dance, a laugh, head for a West End theatre.

We should not be bewildered by race riders - the shyness of some, the flippancy of others. It is a hard, often dangerous road they travel. Fail on a heavily backed favourite and you are sure to hear a string of colourful phrases that could not be repeated here.

All Kieren Fallon heard on Saturday was praise. Including his masterful Derby victory, the Irishman brought home five winners, three at Epsom and two at Newmarket in the evening while those who had shown faith in his ability to steer the Sir Michael Stoute-trained North Light around Epsom's switchback were still raising a glass in celebration.

Fallon, under investigation following the aberration of failing to ride out a finish on Ballinger Ridge in a minor race at Lingfield in March, and branded "The Fixer" by a Sunday tabloid, was entitled to the wry smile he wore at a post-race press conference. Delight still lit up his features as he cantered down for the next race, another victory and another blow for Frankie Dettori, who was edged out in a tight finish.

Arriving at the course, I fell briefly into conversation with a stranger whose informal attire suggested correctly that his mind was more on the great race than the occasion. His fancy was for Dettori's choice of two Godolphin entries, Snow Ridge, whose credentials were established when he stayed on into second in the 2,000 Guineas. Dettori's poor record in the Derby, one that is assuming the proportions of a jinx, had not entered deliberations. "Dettori's got the horse and the talent to pull it off," I heard the man say.

But if Dettori is the most popular race rider of his era, the mantle of best jockey falls on Fallon. It may be premature to suppose his many troubles are behind him, but nobody can question the talent and single-mindedness that have brought six championships in seven seasons and now back-to-back victories in the premier Classic, three in all.

Strength and tactical nous are a big feature of Fallon's riding. In the Oaks on Friday, he held up Ouija Board then brought the filly through strongly to win by a wide margin. Twenty-four hours later, confident that North Light had the stamina to last a mile and a half, he went for home early. "When Kieren and I discussed the race we knew that we wanted to let him flow, and be positive," Stoute said. "We were concerned it might be a muddling race as it seemed short of front-runners."

If the Derby will never again be the event it was when crowds exceeded 200,000 and not a blade of grass could be seen on the infield, anticipation still quickens the pulse. On a humid afternoon, beneath a grey sky, all life, high and low, from the top-hatted to the shirtless, seemed there.

Having placed a modest each-way wager at long odds on the Luca Cumani-trained Pukka, and seen the erstwhile handicapper shorten considerably in the betting, I paid more serious attention to the chances of Snow Ridge. A mistake, it did not allow for Fallon's exemplary judgement.

In moments of excitement the punter strikes an informal note. As Fallon took North Light clear the shout went up: "Go on Kieren, keep him going." By then it was all over bar the shouting.