It may not have been Gulfstream Park in Florida, but it was clear and sunny for Kieren Fallon at the Lingfield version yesterday. The same was true for his demeanour.
It was hard to recognise the haunted figure we saw charging through the press posse in an airport lounge last year. When Fallon gets back on a plane today it will be to return to the Sunshine State where, since the New Year, he has felt a tan on his hide and freshness returning to the rest of his body.
The Irishman's Flat jockeys' championship may have gone, but everything else that is good seems to have come back. It may be appropriate considering the birthday he celebrates next month but, for Kieren Fallon, it seems like life is just beginning.
It was a tumultuous 2004. Stings in national newspapers, accusations that he had dragged racing into disrepute and the loss of his title to Frankie Dettori. Those are the beastly headlines. Fallon was arrested on suspicion of race-fixing in September and remains on police bail until April. It is an eventuality which will not keep him awake in the air. "Let's forget about it, let it roll on," he said. "I'll forget all about it when I fly back tomorrow. Hopefully it will all be out of the way by then [April] anyway."
It has helped Fallon that he has left, what had become for him, a palsied land. The six-times champion has no previous in the United States, indeed he is just another workrider around the infield at Gulfstream Park. Three wins from 11 rides is Fallon's record from his most recent American posting. Most importantly, though, it does feel like the land of the free, a place where he does not attract fake sheikhs or investigative reporters. The only investigation which currently troubles him is locating golf balls.
"It's a great working holiday for me," he said. "Race-riding is easier in America. The jockeys don't have to wrestle them down to the start. They don't have to look after them in the gate. They don't have to travel because they live on the track."
The mere mention of the names of North Light and Ouija Board, just two of the celebrities Fallon will partner in Britain this summer, have rejuvenating properties, but there was more than that as the jockey came skipping out of the Lingfield weighing room yesterday. There was an easy smile for the photographers on what was to prove a barren afternoon during his brief return and the appearance of a man for whom the naked joy of riding good horses will always be enough. Mixing with America's finest has also restored Fallon's infatuation with his sport. He has also resisted the temptation to waste his money on fancy haircuts. "I just love riding horses," he said. "I get a buzz."
Most of all, Fallon feels back in control. He again feels the confidence all jockeys need to make their mounts feel the same. It was strange to hear him talk of losing his conviction yesterday, how at one stage last year his self-belief had evaporated. How did this happen?
"By not riding winners," he said. "If you go two days without riding a winner it starts. It even happened to Tony McCoy, the press started asking what had happened to him. The more they get on your back the harder it is to focus and get it right. It happens to all sports people. What happened to Tiger Woods? He lost it for while and we all know how good he is. When your confidence is up everything works."
One of Fallon's great charms is his lack of ego. Despite his achievements, he paints himself as a fresher on the tracks of North America. "It's all new and different for me," he said. "The way they race-ride is completely different, especially on dirt. They just jump and run. It's all speed. There's no tactical riding.
"You just look at the guys that have been over there - Frankie Dettori, Darryll Holland and Eddie Ahern - and they're the ones top of the leader board here. That's no coincidence. And it was after first going to America that my winners started improving every year."
Fallon believes he too can still improve - his racing as much as his golf - and a formidable player looks likely to return to Britain for Newmarket's Craven meeting. By then the horse which might take him to a great hat-trick may have been uncovered.
"The best thing about Sir Michael's [Stoute's] stable is that there is always something in there, something always emerges at the right time. I'd like to win a third Derby [after Kris Kin and North Light] in a row. I'm not sure that's been done.
"Lester Piggott might have had his percentage worked out at the furlong marker in the Derby, but I'm not in it for that. I'm not money orientated. I want the achievement."
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