Chris McGrath: Fallon's lucky break long overdue

Inside Track
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The Independent Online

In apparently discovering an inner calm, Kieren Fallon seems only to have stirred up the demons in others.

First it was the owner of another horse who assaulted him, at Lingfield last month, and yesterday it was one of his own mounts. And if he was to be congratulated for his temperate response to the first provocation, then this time he owed his continued eligibility for a seventh jockeys' title to sheer good fortune.

He might well consider a bit of luck long overdue. Certainly another kind of break had seemed inevitable when a filly broke loose in the parade ring at Newbury and headed crazily towards Fallon as he approached his own mount. She panicked, and lashed out, sending him sprawling.

There was a horrifying crack. After an admirably focused start, Fallon's first full season in Britain since 2004 suddenly seemed yet another cruel illusion. But hope soon renewed. Treated at first behind black screens, Fallon was taken to a Reading hospital for X-rays on his thigh. Miraculously, however, he was able to walk away within a couple of hours with no more than severe bruising. It is barely an exaggeration to say that half the promise of the young Flat season last night had been redeemed by a hair's breadth.

Whether Fallon would be able to keep his appointment with Lady Of The Desert in the Dubai Duty Free Fred Darling Stakes on today's card was another matter. But it is a measure of the momentum he has quickly achieved in the season's early skirmishes – following various notorious prohibitions in recent years – that he is already a central figure in the build-up to the Stan James 1,000 Guineas. His success at Newmarket on Wednesday on Music Show, in the same ownership as Lady Of The Desert, gave an awkward twist to his obligations to Luca Cumani, who has been training Seta for the same race.

Lady Of The Desert would appear the filly to beat in her own trial, albeit she is potentially vulnerable trying a seventh furlong for the first time. The same looks to be true of Canford Cliffs, who has a rematch with Arcano in the Bathwick Tyres Greenham Stakes – their first public appearance since the Prix Morny last summer.

Canford Cliffs had looked extraterrestrial at Royal Ascot, only to go down in a riot scene at Deauville, where the five runners were divided by barely two necks. Instead it was Arcano who cut down both Canford Cliffs and the subsequent Cheveley Park winner, Special Duty.

Richard Hannon feels that Canford Cliffs was not quite at his best that day but the onus must be on a colt as fast as this one to prove that he will get a mile. His pedigree offers no guarantees, and just four rivals over an intermediate trip are unlikely to obtain any definitive answers.

Arcano's genes suggest that he will prove comfortable with this seventh furlong, at any rate, and with runs on the board against Canford Cliffs he is the safest option today. But something pretty extraordinary will be required to alarm those of us who reckon St Nicholas Abbey an instant consolation for the retirement of Sea The Stars.

Mind you, it is increasingly difficult nowadays to tell the difference between trial and error in these races. Any trial, so close to the Guineas meeting, has the potential to prove an error. A generous comeback effort, just a fortnight before the Guineas, would seem as likely to take the edge off a horse as sharpen it up. In the old days, trainers would treat these rehearsals as part of their conditioning schedule. A personal belief is that modern methods make freshness the most precious - and precarious – performance asset in any thoroughbred.

Aidan O'Brien has saddled five colts to win the Guineas first time out, including three of the past five. St Nicholas Abbey duly goes straight to Newmarket, and only hopeless amnesiacs will be persisting in doubts about Ballydoyle's customary slow start.

All this is purely a matter of instinct, however, and it must be acknowledged that the Craven Stakes – won decisively at Newmarket on Thursday by Elusive Pimpernel, runner-up to St Nicholas Abbey in the Racing Post Trophy – has enjoyed a revival of late. Last year Delegator was foiled only by Sea The Stars in the Guineas, while a photo for the 2008 Craven was shared by Raven's Pass and Twice Over – between them beaten only by two others in the next two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Admittedly Twice Over took the best part of 18 months to build on that run, but the Craven can hardly fail to identify a colt that has trained on and is comfortable with the demands of the Rowley Mile. But the possibility remains that another race on fast ground, so soon after his return from a long absence, will inhibit a creature as big and burly as Elusive Pimpernel.

Either way, it can be argued that he has simply lent St Nicholas Abbey greater substance to go with his astonishing style. If you had told anyone in the unsaddling enclosure after the Racing Post Trophy that the winner would be quoted 5-2 a fortnight before the Guineas, and the second 5-1, you might have been escorted from the track in a straitjacket. As it is, something similar will be required to prevent some of us turning out every pocket when St Nicholas Abbey arrives on the Rowley Mile. Trials, after all, are only for horses with something to prove.

The odds are even more loaded against exploited punters

Last Saturday was one of the defining days in modern Turf history. That being so, it's a pity that an uplifting snapshot of racing in 2010 should have such a disgraceful footnote, the starting price "over-round" having soared to 155 per cent.

Ostensibly "hedging" liabilities, the big high-street firms must have been gratified to find on-course bookmakers so obliging. The latter cut their prices, even though bigger odds remained available – not least to any who fancied laying off the business – on the betting exchanges.

It's all pretty shabby, even if nobody was breaking any rules. Since racing got into bed with the layers (as it were) the odds are increasingly loaded against punters. On the same basis, equally, nobody seems likely to do anything about it.

Only the "mugs" will persevere, of course, which makes the exploitation all the more distasteful. Everyone else will be driven into the arms of the exchanges. If the bookmakers aren't careful, short-term greed will cost them in the longer term.

Of course, it was these same "mugs" who ended up backing the winner, which is more than the most of us managed at any price. Tony McCoy and Jonjo O'Neill hope to follow up in the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr today, with Theatrical Moment. But the veteran Out The Black looks better value, returning a fresher horse this time after finishing third off the same mark last year.

Turf Account: Chris McGrath


Albeed (7.40 Nottingham)

Acquired a very modest handicap rating when green over inadequate trips last year, showing promise all the same. With some high-class genes in her pedigree, can be expected to prove much better now that her stamina is tested.

*Next best

Harbinger (2.0 Newbury)

Did not get home in testing ground here last autumn but looks the type to flourish with maturity, being lightly raced and strongly built.

*One to watch

Usailaan (M P Tregoning) comes from a top-class family and caught the eye in both the parade ring and the race when making his debut at Newmarket on Wednesday, going well when short of room and not given a hard time after.

*Where the money's going

Theatrical Moment is 12-1 from 14-1 with the sponsors to give Tony McCoy and Jonjo O'Neill another big win in the Coral Scottish Grand National today.