After riding out so many storms, just getting back on to an even keel has proved commensurate with the most distant of Kieren Fallon's horizons, back in the spring. At the start of the season he was full of bullish talk about the jockeys' championship, various controversial prohibitions having intruded since he won it a sixth time, in 2003. With hindsight, however, he has come to see those yearnings as impractical. His presence in Chicago on Saturday, at the cost of three winners at Sandown, confirmed a shift of emphasis. From now on, it's going to be more about quality than quantity.
Anyone disposed to construe this new approach as a drop in standards has not been watching Fallon of late. After five winners in just two days at Salisbury, he ended up top rider at the Ebor meeting last week. He stands fourth in the table, with 87 winners. Remember it is still not quite a year since he ended an 18-month suspension for a failed drugs test. In the event, his Arlington trip proved unprofitable, Summit Surge only fifth in the Million and Pachattack losing the Beverly D at the gate. But it heightened the detachment of his reflections, not only on his own future, but on those still contesting the championship: Paul Hanagan (126 winners before last night), Richard Hughes (116) and Ryan Moore (103).
At 45, Fallon acknowledges that the treadmill awaiting these three until November probably rules out any more titles. "I think I'm gone beyond running round the country, killing myself," he said. "I did honestly think I had a shot in March. And there wasn't a whole lot between any of us, for a good while. But you need a stable with runners every day, and Luca [Cumani] doesn't run horses every day. You look at the win ratios of those three boys, for their main yards. If Luca had runners every day, I don't think I'd be far behind."
Moore has lost critical ground over the past fortnight with a wrist injury, in the process opening the door for a reunion with Fallon's old boss, Sir Michael Stoute. But Fallon feels that Paul Hanagan will do well to maintain his lead over Hughes. "Paul says he's shattered," he disclosed. "He's taking rides in every race, and he's not paced himself. If you're tired now, that's a worry – there's still a long way to go. Even early in the season, I told Paul: 'You won't last at the pace you're going.' Not only has he been riding at two meetings a day, he's doing light, and he's riding out five days a week. You can't win the championship going flat out. Every year I won it, it was the same: you just let it build until Ascot, and then put your head down after that. Maybe he should let someone else ride the ones that don't have big chances, sit down, have a cup of tea. Because when you're tired, you start making mistakes. And when you make mistakes, you lose confidence."
Fallon emphasises the highest regard for Hanagan. "You never see him ride a bad race, ever," he said. "And he always does his homework." Even so, he told Hughes he could win the title when still dismissed at 20-1. "With the ammunition he has, and the way he's riding, I'd be backing Hughesie," Fallon confirmed. "When you ride horses like Canford Cliffs, taking you there in Group Ones as easy as he does, you go out there on a selling plater without a care in the world, and things are going to happen for you. You'll win on horses that shouldn't, because the confidence is flowing."
Something similar has become evident in Fallon's own riding, since an unconvincing spring. "I was riding a lot of horses that didn't have a chance, and I'm trying to avoid that now," he said. "I told my agent: 'Unless you think they can win, I don't want to ride them'. I don't want to make up the numbers. When the horses aren't good enough, you end up trying too hard, using more energy than you should. Ten, 20 years ago you could do that. As you get older, you have to try and pace yourself. It's like Wally Swinburn used to do: pick and choose your rides, keep yourself fresh for the big day. That way you don't burn yourself out."
The dividends seem transparent. Fallon's riding at York, in his own judgement, was as close to his pomp as he has managed since that diffident comeback, at Lingfield last September. "I felt better at York than I have all year," he said. "I was in the right place at the right time. With the help of God, provided I don't get injured or suspended, I'm going to ride 100 winners in my first season back, and you'd have to be happy with that."
Fallon laments the setbacks that sidelined Afsare, Cumani's exciting Ascot winner, and Gitano Hernando, whose Grade One success at Santa Anita last autumn remains his only one at the elite level since his return. There was a time, following the collapse of his infamous Old Bailey prosecution, when Fallon pondered a new start in the United States.
"I'd like to spend the winter in America, if I can," Fallon said. "It depends what Luca sends to Dubai, though that doesn't start until late January. It would have been very difficult, to start over in the States, but there'd be nothing to lose finding a base for the winter."
At the time, he saw America as potentially a brave new world. Deep down, however, he knew that proving himself all over again in Britain was a braver challenge still. "And I'm glad that's what I did," he said. "I'm riding some lovely horses again, for Luca – and enjoying it all a lot more, as well."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Light The City (3.20 Catterick) Busy spell caught up with him over shorter trip last time, but had previously improved for a stamina test at Haydock – form that worked out well.
Spinning Spirit (3.30 Ayr) Rain would help but relished drop in trip at Haydock last time.
One to watch
Isobar (L M Cumani) Was only beaten by a well-ridden, well-treated rival at Folkestone last week.
Where the money's going
Harry Patch is 16-1 from 25-1 for the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup.Reuse content