Kieren Fallon is so routinely reproached for an impulse towards self-destruction that he deserves congratulation for revealing a far more discriminating instinct – just at the time he needs it most. Fallon, who has been given an 18-month suspension after failing a drugs test in France last summer, last night agreed to spend the next year working as an assistant to Sir Michael Stoute.
By gaining precious experience with the most eminent trainer in Britain, Fallon hopes to turn his short-term frustration to long-term advantage. The six-times champion jockey has a longstanding bond with Stoute, and believes this renewal of the association will complete the sort of CV he wants to offer patrons once he starts to train himself.
Fallon did have the opportunity to start training at once. But he recognised that it would be better to choose the right time, rather than rush into a new career simply because he has time on his hands. He also acknowledges he has scars to heal, and above all remains adamant that he can resume his riding career at the highest level, even though he will be 44 by the time he has served his ban.
It was his partnership with Stoute that sealed Fallon's status as the most dominant champion jockey since Lester Piggott. Among many other big races, they won the Derby together with Kris Kin and North Light. But theirs was not merely a professional partnership, lethal as it was. Fallon is also indebted to Stoute for the solidarity he has always offered him in times of trial, not least when the word took on an excruciatingly literal sense. When Fallon faced a charge of conspiracy to defraud in the Old Bailey, Stoute was among those who testified his faith in Fallon's innocence in the witness box.
The case against all the defendants was soon dismissed by the judge, but Fallon's life since his arrest in August 2004 has been a long, traumatic saga. He feels that this sanctuary with Stoute provides an overdue opportunity to restore his bearings and peace of mind. The two men met in Newmarket last night and Fallon left rubbing his hands over the prospect of riding top-class horses in their work every morning, and keeping a day-to-day connection with the racetrack.
His lawyers lodged an appeal against the severity of his suspension with the French racing authorities on Monday, and are awaiting a verdict. His intention remains to sharpen up by riding trackwork in the United States in the final stages of his ban, but he hopes that this new link with Stoute will help prevent too much rustiness in the meantime.
Over jumps, Ruby Walsh is no less outstanding a horseman and his mount will surely be one of the favourites for the John Smith's Grand National on 5 April. Walsh's main employers, Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, are responsible for two of the favourites after publication of the weights yesterday. Snowy Morning, recommended at 20-1 in these pages last month, is now down to 10-1 with Ladbrokes and may be given the chance to show his hand at Leopardstown on Sunday. Mullins could not disguise his irritation that Snowy Morning has been set 10st 12lb, having sheltered the horse over hurdles since a fall in his first handicap chase in November.
As a novice Snowy Morning had finished second to Denman, albeit at a respectful distance, in championship company at Cheltenham. "I thought he had enough weight, as a second-season novice who hasn't completed over fences this season," he said. "But he does have lovely potential."
Mullins is also preparing his 2005 winner, Hedgehunter, for his fifth consecutive National, though again felt the horse to be owed more clemency than he found at 11st 9lb. "For a 12-year-old, not having won a race in three years, I thought that was a tad harsh," Mullins said.
Nicholls has spent most of his time at Aintree "chasing loose ones" and last year had the difficult experience of watching one of his former charges, Silver Birch, win for Gordon Elliott. But he might finally have an authentic National prospect in Mr Pointment, so impressive over the big fences in November. Kept fresh since, Mr Pointment limbers up at Doncaster on 1 March. Nicholls may seek a commitment from Walsh by then. Sam Thomas, his deputy, is standing by.
Nap: Faithful Ruler