Racing: Shock waves as six-times champion is accused

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It is a characteristic anomaly that the most potent jockey of his generation should be accused of cheating the very punters who cherish him as their greatest ally since Lester Piggott.

As a jockey, Kieren Fallon is revered in betting shops as the most virile finisher of his era. As a man, he is an unfathomable paradox. His tough, cold features can yield an unexpectedly bright eye and smile. And while his problems with drink and discipline would seem to confirm a chronic habit of self-destruction, his demeanour persuasively suggests icy control, in and out of the saddle.

The definitive example of these contradictions came in September 1994, when Fallon was so incensed with the riding of Stuart Webster that he dragged him off his mount after the winning post at Beverley. The Jockey Club banned him for six months, and that would ordinarily have been that: the end of the road for an obscure Irishman, at 29 getting nowhere fast on the northern circuit. He had already been banned for seven days, earlier that summer, for striking another jockey with his whip. Yet this episode proved the making of Fallon.

He spent his suspension exercising horses in the United States, where it is imperative to gallop a horse precisely against a stopwatch. When Fallon returned, he harnessed this new sense of timing to his native wit and strength. Gradually, people began to notice his evolution into the complete jockey.

In 1997, he broke into the élite, recruited by Henry Cecil to ride for the most prestigious stable in Newmarket at the time. He promptly won his first title, passing 200 winners for the first time. In 1999 Fallon and Cecil won three of the first four Classics - including the Derby, with Oath. But Fallon was abruptly fired after a puerile newspaper report disclosed that Cecil's wife had shared a shower with an unnamed jockey.

Fallon has always denied any involvement. Again, he was swift to build upon adversity, being immediately hired by Sir Michael Stoute. Fallon recovered from a serious shoulder injury in 2000 to share consecutive Derbys with Stoute on Kris Kin (2003) and North Light (2004).

The two men formed a strong bond, Stoute showing great fidelity whenever Fallon explored some new blind alley - for instance, when he sought treatment in an alcohol clinic during 2003, or when he appeared to make an excruciating blunder on Ballinger Ridge at Lingfield early the following year.

On that occasion, he was given a 21-day ban by the Jockey Club for easing up prematurely and being caught on the line. Soon after this, the News Of The World snared Fallon with its infamous "fake sheikh". The tapes produced five pages of revelations offering no foundation for a wild front page headline, "Mr Fixit".

Fallon's lawyers noted as much and were soon back in touch. (A couple of years previously, he had received an apology from the same newspaper over a story that Fallon associated with Triad members during a winter riding in Hong Kong.)

Even Fallon's arrest, later that year, could not inhibit his genius for forging medals when falling from frying pan to fire. Early in 2005, Fallon was recruited to perhaps the most lucrative riding position in the world, as retained jockey for the owners of Coolmore Stud in Ireland.

They have shared spectacular success with horses like George Washington and Hurricane Run. Only on Sunday, Fallon and his patrons produced another champion when Dylan Thomas ran away with the Budweiser Irish Derby at the Curragh.

The poet honoured by this colt would have been intrigued by the incongruities of Fallon, by the way he has always thrived on dramas that might finish others off. It was Dylan Thomas, after all, who said: "When one burns one's bridges, what a very nice fire it makes." Come to that, he also said that he held "a beast, an angel and a madman" within him. Perhaps he would recognise traces of the same in Fallon.

After Dylan Thomas won on Sunday, John Magnier observed that Fallon was the man he would choose to take the fifth penalty for Ireland in a World Cup shoot-out. Yesterday the Coolmore boss and his partners issued a statement expressing confidence that their jockey could not be responsible for this kind of deplorable own goal. It read: "John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor have been assured that Mr Fallon is innocent of these charges and look forward to his opportunity to defend himself, and to the early resolution of this issue."

They will doubtless comfort themselves that there have long been people eager to throw mud at Fallon, but that so far none has ever really stuck.

Fallon: From apprentice to punters' favourite

* Born 22 February 1965 in Crusheen, County Clare, Ireland. Has been champion Flat jockey in Britain six times.

* First winner, Piccadilly Lord, at Navan in 1984. Came to England in 1988 to ride for Jimmy FitzGerald. First winner here was Evichstar at Thirsk.

* Married to ex-jockey Julie Bowker.

* In the spring of 2004 the News of the World made allegations of race- fixing against him. Was due to appear before the Jockey Club later in the year to answer the allegations when on 1 September 2004 he was one of three jockeys arrested as part of an investigation into the alleged fixing of over 80 races. In December 2004 the Jockey Club discontinued its investigation.

* Major winners in Britain: 1,000 Guineas four times, 2,000 Guineas four times; Oaks four times; Derby three times.

The Turf's hall of shame

* POISONING Daniel Dawson was found guilty of fatally poisoning three Newmarket racehorses in 1812 and was executed in Cambridge before 12,000 spectators - "it being market day".

* DERBY The Derby itself was defiled by the discovery that a race restricted to three-year-olds had been won in 1844 by a four-year-old, Maccabaeus, masquerading under the name of Running Rein.

* NOBBLING In 1961 the Derby favourite, Pinturischio, was "nobbled" by a double dose of croton oil, normally used on constipated elephants.

* THE 'RINGER' Flockton Grey was backed to win £200,000 at Leicester in 1982. The horse that actually won the race - by 20 lengths - was in fact a much better one, called Good Hand.

* DOPING In 1990, Norwich and Bravefoot were found to have been "got at" with ACP, a tranquilliser. Ten years later it emerged that they were part of a 23-horse doping spree by Dermot Browne, who was then banned for 20 years. As a rider, Browne had aroused suspicions aboard the 1985 Champion Hurdle favourite who was facing the wrong way at the start and lost many lengths.

* WARNED OFF In 1998 15 people, including five jockeys, were arrested as part of a race-fixing investigation. None was convicted, although Graham Bradley was subsequently warned off.