Fallon clears his name but now faces new challenge in saddle

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The Independent Online

Though Kieren Fallon has won the battle to clear his name, nobody should underestimate the losses he has sustained in the process. Most obviously, he has suffered financially from the suspension of his licence to ride in Britain for 15 months between being charged and tried. But while he may yet seek some redress in that respect, the damage to his confidence and reputation is harder to quantify. His challenge now, in salvaging one of the great careers in Turf history, is to retrieve the ascendancy he enjoyed before the police came knocking at his door, 40 harrowing months ago.

Though he has so far been backed to the hilt by his patrons at Coolmore Stud, he will now have to earn their continued fidelity. Certainly there was a conspicuous absence of future commitment to an otherwise wholehearted statement issued yesterday by John Magnier and his partners in Coolmore, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.

Though delighted by the judge's decision to free Fallon, they were saddened "that he was denied the right to display his skills and earn a living on the racecourses of Britain while this case was pending". They added: "A jockey's career is a short one and Kieren was cruelly disadvantaged at the peak of his career. Kieren has been nothing less than superb in his riding of our horses his record is there for all to see. This has been a terrible time for Kieren and we are delighted it is finally behind him."

When first finding himself before a court accustomed to dealing with rapists and murderers, Fallon sometimes seemed to surrender to disenchantment. In the early days of the trial, he confided that he was thinking of retirement after the trial. But as his outraged claims of innocence found increasing corroboration assisted by the verve of his counsel, John Kelsey-Fry QC his spirits brightened. He talked of spending time in the United States, restoring fitness and belief, before resuming in Europe next year. But he still dreads lazy suspicions that he has been reprieved by the technical failings of the case against him, rather than its gross inadequacy.

Fallon is especially aggrieved because he knows that he was in his pomp when the whole fiasco began. Now, at 42, he must persuade himself and others that he can again command the heights. As a relatively late starter, he believes that he retains the physical potential to ride for several more years. He expressed surprise when Kevin Darley, at 47, announced his retirement during the course of the trial. But he knows that his ordeal has invited disintegration of another kind.

In private, he admits he has been "going downhill" ever since his arrest. At the time, he was sailing serenely towards a seventh championship, but his momentum faltered in the remaining weeks of the season and he was caught by Frankie Dettori.

After he was charged, and had his British licence suspended, Fallon compounded his problems in a way that exasperated his patrons who, having hired him after his arrest, had already confirmed their intention to stand by their man. Though Fallon was still able to ride their horses in Ireland, and several other European jurisdictions, this time last year the French racing authorities announced that he had failed a drugs test. He was promptly given a six-month, worldwide ban.

When he resurfaced in June, he had begun to seem a marginal figure. Though Coolmore's principal trainer, Aidan O'Brien, began the season using a variety of top jockeys as his substitute, Johnny Murtagh soon overtook them all and now represents the standard Fallon himself must retrieve. Though he signed off, on the very eve of his trial, with an epic success on Dylan Thomas in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Fallon has since confessed that he considered his riding in Ireland last year to have been "terrible". A poignant sense developed that his fiery genius might be seeping away, that Dylan Thomas in Paris might ultimately serve as a flourish of despair, as a kind of instinctive valediction.

Hence his zeal to go back to basics. He feels that riding trackwork in the United States replicates the demands of race-riding, and renews its habits, without its pressures. Indeed, it was the six months he spent working there, during a suspension earlier in his career, that transformed him into a top-class rider.

At least he can comfort himself that the regulators of the British sport have been so embarrassed by this debacle that they will surely repent of the additional folly that had originally seemed to beckon them. When rumours began to circulate about the flimsiness of the police evidence, it was widely suspected that the British Horseracing Authority would try to make a meal of such scraps as fell off the prosecution table. As things have turned out, any breaches of their own rules by Fallon are so trivial relative to the plague they have brought upon themselves that they can hardly quibble with him now.

One question would have been why he was using an unregistered mobile to text opinions to friends from the weighing room. Whether this behaviour could be best classified as stupidity or arrogance on Fallon's part, neither would justify his prohibition for anything like the period he has already been suspended.

In terms of seeking damages, Fallon has merely rattled his sabre. He emphasised yesterday that the BHA's hasty prohibition had "caused enormous personal pain at so many levels". And added: "I am devastated at having lost over a year's racing at the top level, at possibly the most important time in my career, and I have missed out on considerable income." He noted that the regulators had been given ample opportunity to weigh the evidence against him. "They chose not to," he said. "And instead ruled me guilty without trial by banning me from racing."

In refusing to look at the evidence, of course, the racing authorities were presumably at pains to avoid any procedural or substantive excess that might leave them vulnerable to civil action. Plainly, it would make sense now for both sides to call it quits. Enough damage has been done.

But what of the public, meanwhile the punters who worship Fallon, the very people he was accused of betraying? After all this, they have discovered a single, irresponsible foible. And this must be counted merely another complicating insight into a singular, inscrutable man. For all the force of his personality, and the inexorable ferocity of his riding, Fallon has an air of vulnerability. It was instructive to observe his modest, earnest demeanour as he strove to follow the cerebral acrobatics of some of the leading barristers in the land, week after week, a devotional card resting before him. Fergal Lynch, in contrast, could seldom shed a bored, conceited smirk, even though the evidence before the court gave him far greater cause for embarrassment.

Fallon, as is well known, has had his problems with alcohol. And he has, judging from this case, made some awful judgements in his choice of friends. Yes, these are flaws. But they are not criminal flaws, or anything like. They are familiar, mortal frailties. And in sporting idols, the things we can know, understand or condemn are seldom the things that set them apart.

World of horse racing in the dock: How the case against Fallon gradually fell apart

* 8 October

Trial opens with prosecution alleging that Fallon was part of race-fixing conspiracy which staked over 2m but ended up losing 278,000 after he won on five of the horses he was supposed to stop. Fallon, along with Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams, alleged to have agreed to ensure horses they were riding lost in 27 races between December 2002 and September 2004 in order for Betfair accounts operated by professional gambler Miles Rodgers to profit.

* 10 October

Fallon's barrister, John Kelsey-Fry QC (right), says: "The very fact that a man described as the greatest jockey of his generation ends up unable to help winning when he is trying to lose is simply ridiculous." Point made Fallon won more races during time of alleged conspiracy than usual, with strike-rate rising from 19 per cent to 29.4 per cent.

* 12 October

Opening prosecution witness, Betfair's legal counsel David O'Reilly, admits part of his statement was "downright misleading". He had told court that betting on Rodgers accounts led to dramatic pre-race drifts, but admitted this was misleading as that included in-running bets.

Defence counsel for Rodgers suggests DI Mark Manning, of City of London police, believed Rodgers won 2m confusing liability with profit. "Did he [Manning] understand [Betfair's work]?" counsel asks O'Reilly, who replied: "It had been mostly a struggle."

* 15 October

Racing security chief, Paul Scotney, accused of making drunken claim he was out to get Fallon. Has to admit evidence central to the case had been destroyed.

* 30 October

Prosecution witness Ray Murrihy, New South Wales's chief steward, denies colouring evidence due to his opposition to betting exchanges in Australia.

* 1 November

Murrihy admits being unaware of tracks' draw bias before giving opinion of rides at those tracks.

* 2 November

Murrihy is critical of Fallon for following trainer's instructions in steadying at the start horse with a history of problems.

* 5 November

Fallon's performance on horse he is alleged to have ridden with corrupt intentions is described as "perfect" by its trainer, Alan Jarvis "he's the best in the world". Trainers Sir Michael Stoute, Ed Dunlop, Michael Bell and David Loder, called by prosecution, united in praise of Fallon.

* 7 November

Court hears footballer Michael Owen (right) contacted Fallon every day for opinion on races.

* 12 November

DI Manning, leading investigation, admits misunderstanding betting at heart of case. "If I had a better understanding I would not have made what, on the face of it, is a mistake."

* 13 November

Court learns Channel 4 analyst Jim McGrath had disputed conclusions of expert witness Murrihy, but notes on interview with DI Manning not volunteered to defence counsel due to "oversight". Manning admits he does not know what a race-reader is and that: "I'm not sure whether McGrath is deemed an expert."

* 14 November

DI Manning admits he could still be joining BHA's security department, despite earlier saying he had turned down a job offer.

* 19 November

DI Manning denies that failing to reveal to defence Jim McGrath's view that Fallon had not stopped Ballinger Ridge represented a "ticking time bomb for the prosecution".