The Nick Townsend column: Racing in dock but no winners emerge from Fallon fiasco
Sport of kings needs cleansing yet champion jockey's tendency to self-destruct flares up with positive test
Sunday 09 December 2007
W hen it comes to backing a loser and that was what events over the last two months at the Old Bailey have principally been about you won't witness many better examples than the Crown Prosecution Service's case against Fallon & Co. You just have the feeling that the prospect of feeling the collar of the silks of the nation's leading Flat jockey, a six-times champion, no less, had certain individuals over-excited and over-reaching themselves. Probably, there hasn't been such a frisson of excitement among the authorities since Lester Piggott was sent down. It was alleged in court, for instance, that Paul Scotney, racing's top security man and a former policeman, was heard to make the drunken promise to "get Kieren Fallon".
As it transpired, Scotney need hardly have bothered. If ever there was a man liable to self-destruct it was the Irishman who yesterday tested positive for a banned substance at Deauville in August. If the B sample also damns him, Fallon can expect an 18-month ban. One can only surmise that it leaves the future relationship with his employers, Coolmore, and his career fragile in the extreme.
But to return to the central issue, his acquittal and those of his co-defendants, there may well have been sound rationale for suspecting that nefarious practices within racing have existed and, indeed, will continue to defile the sport. But this was no way to prosecute it.
When it came to the moment, Mr Justice Forbes could not make his misgivings apparent fast enough. Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful tool, but anyone with any knowledge of racing had been anticipating the collapse of this case for weeks. The prosecution case was woefully weak, as epitomised by the recruitment of an Australian, Ray Murrihy, chief steward of Racing New South Wales, as the prosecution's only expert witness to analyse riding in 27 "suspect" races (in which horses ridden by the three defendants had been allegedly backed to lose). Justice Forbes referred to the "shortcomings and limitations of his expertise", which made his evidence about as relevant as "an eskimo reporting on the Cup Final", a phrase uttered by that doyen of commentators, Sir Peter O'Sullevan.
It would have been farcical if it hadn't diverted millions of pounds of public money into the hands of our learned friends, deprived Fallon, Darren Williams and Fergal Lynch of their livelihoods for over a year and, not for the first time, brought racing into disrepute even if that last observation should be tempered by the fact that the thought of skulduggery being afoot possibly contributes to the sport's mystique and fascination for many rather than detracts from it; hence novelist Dick Francis' fortune, from whose pages this could have been drawn, except even he would have considered such a plot too outrageous.
The British Horseracing Authority may end up facing enormous costs to pay for the case. That's before the jockey himself demands, if he does, recompense for loss of earnings.
Although, ostensibly, events at the Old Bailey followed a City of London police investigation and a CPS decision to proceed, the sport's regulatory body, the BHA, are implicated up to their necks. Thus far, the barricades have been erected. The BHA have denied allegations that they promised to part-finance the police case "there may well have been discussions but it was never agreed, never promised" insisted their PR man, who was the only representative to front up though there is still the highly debatable matter of the BHA offering employment to a detective inspector on the case. Tomorrow the governing body meet. The fall-out will be fascinating after what that organisation refers to, with masterful understatement, as a "sad episode".
For the moment they talk of reviewing the evidence and determining "if there have been breaches of the rules of racing that would require it to take disciplinary action".
It is said that any further action against a man whose prowess in the saddle is revered by so many would be considered by those in the industry and the racing public as petty in the extreme. That said, this humiliation for the police, CPS and racing's governing body should not be regarded as having magically cleansed the sport.
Promoting, and policing, integrity in racing remains a priority. And it would be wrong if the failure to prosecute this case created more opportunities for criminal activity in the belief that the BHA and police are powerless to intervene. Another trial, involving the trainer Alan Berry, is scheduled for next year and the outcome of that will be intriguing.
As for Fallon, one can comprehend his sense of outrage after a period in which his suspension in Britain, pending the trial, caused him to miss winning rides in numerous prestige and valuable races. The evidence against him was particularly tenuous, but it should not distract us from the fact that he was entirely an innocent, albeit in the trial it was also alleged that he regularly broke the rules by using unregistered mobile phones to communicate tips.
Partnering a Classic winner, he is, without doubt, a genius. As his trainer and compatriot Aidan O'Brien once said: "When Kieren gets on a horse he's in a different land; it's a land that the rest of us do not understand."
The problems start when he returns to terra firma and the real world. Then the man who has suffered alcohol and drug problems, can appear a lostsoul. One just wonders what,at the age of 42, the future now holds for him as a hero of the nation's racecards.
Hamilton leaves rivals trailing in personality race of also-rans
It could all have been so different. Just imagine for a moment that Scott Carson had somehow got his fingers to the Croatian substitute Mladen Petric's effort and effected the vital save; an ebullient Steve McClaren was at this moment planning for Euro 08 in Switzerland and Austria, at which England would be determined to climb every mountain while their supporters were determined to clamber up every hillside in search of a bevvy; and at just before nine o'clock tonight, Gary Lineker would gravely announce: "The BBC Sports Personality of the year is... Peter Crouch." Perhaps that is extending the boundaries of plausibility too much. Yet the accepted wisdom is that the 53-year-old telly award almost invariably goes to a winner, whether he or she is an individual victor or the most significant member of a team, and the more recent the achievement the better.
But not this time. In a few hours, it would be unwise to look any further than the year's most celebrated runner-up; a man who will give the lie to the old adage that you don't win anything for coming second. The acclaimed rookie rather than a Ricky, the Hitman. We can say that with reasonable confidence, even if by the time you read this you are also digesting, with your breakfast, TV and radio reports of Hatton's triumph in Las Vegas.
"Lewis Hamilton wins viewers' vote" is as predictable a headline tomorrow morning as "John Terry backs Mourinho for England coach". If the 22-year-old had actually claimed the Formula One championship they would have stopped the fight by now, so to speak. One suspects that ultimately finishing second will not do his claim much damage.
What is it about motor racing? Whatever the factors responsible for the sport's apparent sexiness, be it the inherent dangers, the vast excesses of money or the power game that surrounds it, if Hamilton does get the crown he will be the sixth winner from that sport.
A season in which Hamilton came within touching distance of greatness is likely to prove sufficient. And, unlike some we could mention, he possesses an endearing personality.
But does it all matter? Though compelling viewing, the Sports Personality award is a nonsense, about as relevant to true sporting endeavour and achievement as the Eurovision Song Contest is to pop music. It requires a Terry Wogan figure to chuckle and scoff at some of the incongruities.
Does Hamilton really boast better credentials than James Toseland, who this year secured his second World Superbikes Championship? And what of cycling's Victoria Pendletonand Nicole Cooke, who are not even shortlisted?
"There is no justice," Lord Coe said, if Joe Calzaghe fails to take the prize. No one ever said there was. It's all about perception, profile and blind prejudice, for and against. That is why the well-spoken, supremely confident role model, the product of a supportive family, who also puts his life on the line at regular intervals, will get our vote tonight.
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