Racing: Suspension puts Fallon's champion status at risk

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The Independent Online

There is just about only one story in sport at the moment. It concerns an obsessed Irishman whose disciplinary problems appear to be putting a championship at stake.

But then there is much to connect Roy Keane and Kieren Fallon, both of whom are slim and relatively small until it comes to the effect of their gaze and body language. The footballer is out for six weeks and, while the jockey is about to be absent for less than a fortnight, it may be his suspension which has the greatest effect on the destiny of a season-long prize, in his case the riders' championship.

Fallon started yesterday 13 winners ahead of Richard Hughes in the title race but ended it several lengths behind after being saddled with a 13-day suspension at the Jockey Club. A further four-day ban is in the equation and will be activated if he commits another offence within three months.

The misfortune of others made it a memorable day for Hughes. Following Olivier Peslier's fall in France on Wednesday and consequent break to his collar-bone, the tall jockey was yesterday booked to ride Banks Hill in Sunday's Prix du Moulin at Longchamp.

Fallon made no comment at Portman Square and on occasions like that it is always best not to press him too rigorously. There were words, however, from Michael Caulfield, the secretary of the Jockeys' Association, who was critical of the totting-up procedure under which his man was punished.

The champion's culpability in a case of irresponsible riding of a minor nature at Newmarket last month triggered yesterday's ban as he had already accrued 16 days of suspensions in the past 12 months.

"Some would say it is a little harsh but Kieren came here today knowing that he would get a ban and it's got to be served," Caulfield said. "But there is a feeling in the weighing room, which I share, that we need to improve the totting-up system.

"You haven't got to be a genius to work out that if you are a top jockey, who is riding in 600 to 1,000 races a year, you are going to make a couple of mistakes during that time. You have a bad month, a bad week and it's all over.

"I can understand all forms of regulation. I know why it is in place but the totting-up system offers no encouragement for jockeys. I am confused by the will to punish and punish again. Kieren has had six minor bans this year, all of two or three days, and now he has this as well. I'm not sure what purpose it serves.

"I would like to see incentives introduced to reward jockeys – those who don't commit offences for long periods could have time taken off any suspensions they receive. When a jockey reaches the edge of the threshold they are riding with something hanging over them and that can't be helpful."

In a second hearing at the Jockey Club there was further evidence that results at Portman Square are as reliable as those of Portman Park. Grimaldi must have been chairman of the panel as racing's police discussed the case of Recount, whose run at Lingfield last week launched a raft of penalties.

The gelding was banned for 40 days, his jockey Ricky Lake for 10 and the trainer John Best fined £1,600 by the local stewards under the non-triers rule. Recount had finished lame, as did the Jockey Club's logic yesterday after they exonerated horse and trainer, but let Lake's suspension stand.

"The stewards accepted that the horse finished lame and that is why he didn't show his form," the rider said. "But they haven't been able to explain themselves as to what I should do in future if I ride a horse which I feel isn't right.

"I asked them whether I should ride a horse all the way out to the line if I suspect he is lame and they weren't able to give me an answer."

John Maxse, for the Jockey Club, was pushed through the curtains to explain the decision. "The video evidence didn't demonstrate clearly that Lake felt a problem had occurred during the race," he said, "and therefore he was found in breach of that rule."

In one sense Maxse was right. It was not the video which demonstrated there was a problem. It was the horse.