Racing: Fallon defended over `cheat' claims

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THE jockey Kieren Fallon, branded a "cheat" over his riding of Top Cees, was yesterday defended in the High Court. The former jockey Adrian Maxwell, giving evidence on Fallon's performance on Top Cees during meetings at Newmarket and Chester, told a jury that Fallon could not be blamed for the horse's poor performance at the earlier meeting and had ridden a copybook race at Chester.

The hearing continued in London of the action brought by Fallon and Lynda and Jack Ramsden over an article in The Sporting Life in May 1995 that accused them of "cheating" their way to victory in the Chester Cup three weeks after Top Cees' defeat at Newmarket.

The article described the win as "seedy and deeply unpopular" and alleged that Fallon had tenderly handled the horse at Newmarket to improve the odds on Top Cees at Chester. The Sporting Life's publishers, Mirror Group Newspapers, deny libel, claiming the article, headlined "Contempt for the Punter" was justified and fair comment on a matter of public interest.

During cross-examination by Mr Richard Hartley, QC, for Mirror Group Newspapers, Maxwell agreed that the gallop in the Swaffham Handicap at Newmarket was a strong one.

"It was very fast," he said. Two furlongs out, Fallon had "come off the bridle" in a bid to spur the horse. It was impossible to tell how much a mount had left in its tank, and the jockey had to give the horse a chance to respond. He had tried to find a gap but failed.

Top Cees, Maxwell said, had run well but had nowhere to go. The horse, who came fifth, had been unlucky in running. When it was suggested that Fallon had used his whip too late, Maxwell said the use of the whip was a last resort.

Maxwell also denied a suggestion that Top Cees had appeared unbalanced. He left the witness box to indicate, on a video recording of the race, the point where Fallon had sought to make a breakthrough. "You can see from the video that Mr Fallon was looking for gaps, but there were none," he told the jury.

The case continues today.