Fallon: 'I can come back from this as a better, stronger person'

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The Independent Online

With Kieren Fallon, people should know better by now than to assume that the final chapter in the modern Turf's greatest melodrama has been written at last. When the French racing authorities announced yesterday that the six-times champion jockey had been suspended for 18 months, following a failed drugs test, the general reaction was that even Fallon would have to accept that he had finally reached the end of the road. But the man himself was seeing things rather differently.

Though he confessed himself heartbroken by the severity of the ban, and immediately lodged an appeal, Fallon was determined to keep things in perspective. "It's not a tragedy," he said yesterday evening. "You can read about proper tragedies in the paper every day, like that fellow jumping off a balcony with his kids in his arms. This is just another setback in my life, but sometimes good things can come out of bad.

"When I had a six-month ban earlier in my career, I went to America and I learned so much as a rider. Maybe I can come back from this as a better, stronger person. Maybe it could even add a few more years to my career. I was a late starter, after all. I didn't get on a horse until I was 18.

"I'm only 42, and I don't feel it. I've never felt so well. I'm very lucky, in that I don't struggle with my weight. I have no injury problems. Remember, Lester was 54 when he started riding again, and that was after doing time. Some of the best riders in the world have bounced back after having far bigger problems. Look at Garrett Gomez in America."

After entering rehabilitation in 2003, Gomez did not ride for 21 months, but last year he rode a record number of stakes winners and also ended up top of the American earnings table. Fallon feels that he can use his enforced absence to restore equilibrium to his life after three and a half years of trauma.

To some, he has not so much tended to jump from frying pan to fire, as to let it simply melt into the flames. That certainly seemed the case when news of his positive test broke just hours after the collapse of the infamous race-fixing trial at the Old Bailey – a nightmare that had begun with his arrest, out of the blue, in August 2004.

He has been able to keep his spirits up since the end of the trial by noting that while his livelihood remained at stake, at least the same could no longer be said of his liberty, which had been menaced by a ham-fisted, credulous police investigation. Fallon was one of six men accused of conspiracy to defraud punters in a series of 27 races between 2002 and 2004, but after listening to the prosecution for two months, Mr Justice Forbes directed the jury that the defendants had no case to answer.

True to form, Fallon had begun that ordeal the very next morning after winning the biggest prize on the European Turf, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Many will now be making the poignant assumption that his epic performance on Dylan Thomas, that golden Paris afternoon, must now be cherished as his moment of valediction – as something to remember him by.

But whatever other problems may have arisen during times of stress and isolation, Fallon says that he only has one addiction: riding horses. "I'll use this time to get myself back on track," he said. "During all that time [since his arrest] I'd been trying to smile my way through, but deep down I was in bits. Now I will just do some of the things I've always wanted to do, and then I'll go to the States again and tune myself back into riding."

Fallon tested positive to a banned substance after winning a Group One prize at Deauville last August. It was his second offence since the suspension of his licence to ride in Britain, pending the trial. He had previously served a six-month suspension for testing positive for a metabolite of cocaine in June 2006, also in France.

Yesterday's news will launch a shoal of red herrings about who might now succeed Fallon as stable jockey at Ballydoyle. The fact is that his contract had elapsed anyway, and his availability or otherwise had no bearing on the stable's likely riding arrangements this year.

In reality, it has no need of a retained jockey. The only feasible candidates are almost invariably available the moment Aidan O'Brien, the Ballydoyle trainer, snaps his fingers.

The situation might be different, were it necessary to prevent some irresistible talent signing for a rival operation. But Seamus Heffernan has matured into an ideal fit for Ballydoyle's day-to-day runners, and riders like Johnny Murtagh and Michael Kinane can nearly always mop up the cream. A statement from O'Brien's employers at Coolmore Stud confirmed as much, describing Fallon's situation as "a personal matter" and insisting that "for us there is no change". They will continue to use the best available.

For Fallon himself, in the meantime, arguably far more sympathy is due than the French authorities seem to have found in their hearts. He has spoken in the past of taking up training some day, and perhaps he can lay some foundations during the months ahead. But whatever questions he asks himself now, and whatever answers he comes up with, he has no doubts about the biggest one of all. He will be back.