Racing: O'Brien in passionate plea: 'We don't want Kieren destroyed'
Ballydoyle trainer says losing stable jockey is 'like taking a wheel off'
When he won the Irish Derby, just 13 days ago, Kieren Fallon was memorably saluted by his patrons for the detachment he brings to the crucibles of his vocation. John Magnier said that he would choose him to take the fifth penalty for Ireland at the World Cup, and Aidan O'Brien remarked how Fallon always kept his cool, no matter what fires burned around him.
They return to the Curragh tomorrow in shock over what happened in London the very next day. One of three jockeys charged by police with conspiracy to defraud punters, Fallon has since divided himself between a legal battle to restore his licence to ride in Britain, and an exhibition of that mental strength on those racecourses where he remains free to ride.
The Turf Club in Ireland has assured Fallon that he will be treated as innocent until proven otherwise. So it is that he can partner the odds-on favourite for the next Classic in the Irish calendar, Alexandrova in the Darley Irish Oaks.
At Newmarket yesterday O'Brien broke his silence on the trauma with an impassioned defence of a man whose unique talents he has only slowly grasped himself.
The suspension of his licence to ride in Britain is awkward for O'Brien and his patrons at Coolmore Stud, who can hardly renew their contract with Fallon under these circumstances. "Obviously there are great jockeys around," O'Brien said. "But with Kieren, working with us every day, it's like taking a wheel off."
Having said that, the inconvenience of his patrons paled next to their sense of injustice on Fallon's behalf. "It's terrible for us," he said. "But knowing Kieren, that's the real killer about it. Ask any trainer he has ridden for, and they'll tell you the same: nobody wants to win as badly as he does. He's an absolute master of his craft, like none before. I couldn't have said these things myself before I worked with him. He has this gift, to sense things in a horse.
"Nobody gets as much out of a horse without hitting him. He very rarely uses his stick. He won a handicap at Naas the other day, you should look at the tape. Though he was still two lengths down, he put the stick down and won by a head. He said he knew the horse was giving as much as he could. He has such respect for the horses. He wants to win every single race, but not at the cost of the horse. In some countries, horses are ridden within an inch of their lives.
"If he does have a fault, it's that he is too open with people, too genuine. Kieren has the most unbelievable talent we have ever seen, and we don't want to see him destroyed. Instead of condemning him, we should be celebrating him. That's what often happens with a genius - that only happens years later, when they are dead and gone. I just hope everyone can get out of this mess, without anyone looking stupid. If you're not in the middle of racing, it's very difficult to understand."
Even as he spoke, the Appeal Board of the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA) issued an explanation for its decision to uphold the suspension of Fallon's licence. They did so at the request of his lawyers, who are taking his case to the High Court. Both HRA hearings - the initial suspension and appeal - were chaired by former High Court judges who will have done their best to observe every procedure that might be subject to judicial review.
Fallon's lawyers raised two objections: the HRA's refusal to examine certain race videos, and the disproportionate consequences of his suspension. The Appeal Board insisted that the HRA has no business establishing the strength of the prosecution case. They could hardly make a judgement of the evidence on the basis of a small sample. At trial, the videos will be considered alongside 40,000 pages of witness statements and interviews. Even if assessment of the evidence were practicable for the HRA it might risk contempt of court.
Whether Fallon's suspension is proportionate is another matter. The Appeal Board disclosed that a trial "cannot be ready before late next year" and reiterated that Fallon remained innocent unless and until a jury decided otherwise, adding: "We wish to make absolutely clear that we have no inside or other knowledge of the charges against Mr Fallon."
In ordering his suspension, the HRA had weighed the blatant damage to Fallon's career against the potential damage to the reputation of his sport. Endorsing its verdict, the Board said: "Sadly, he is now in the position of anyone who faces a charge of having committed a serious criminal offence. In the past that has included individuals from all walks of life. It is inevitable that they suffer to a greater or lesser extent as a result and whilst awaiting trial."
Fallon can still ride in his homeland and will doubtless harness his indignation to Alexandrova's cause tomorrow. On the same card, O'Brien seeks a fifth consecutive win in the Anglesey Stakes through Abide With Me. This colt, a son of Danehill, might have been named with his embattled rider specifically in mind.
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