Somehow, this man of ice perseveres through his strange purgatory. On Thursday, Kieren Fallon will sit behind a glass screen in the Old Bailey and listen to a prosecution counsel accusing him and five other defendants of race-fixing – a charge they all deny. Yesterday, however, he was back in Ireland, rehearsing for one of the most extraordinary opportunities of his or any other riding career.
His success on US Ranger in a Listed race at the Curragh suggests that Fallon retains that singular detachment, that ability to sit on a horse and clear his mind of even these torments.
With the court not sitting, on Sunday he will be at liberty to ride in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp – where his patrons will be represented by the two principal threats to the favourite, Authorized. They have Soldier Of Fortune, who excels in soft going, and Dylan Thomas, at his best on faster ground. One night divides Fallon from the chance to win perhaps the greatest race in Europe, and the resumption of a trial that menaces his very liberty.
True, US Ranger demanded precious little attention. When trained in France this colt started second favourite for the 2,000 Guineas back in May but faded into seventh. He then bumped into Tariq in the Jersey Stakes at Ascot and was transferred to Aidan O'Brien, who yesterday gave him another drop in distance, to six furlongs. Sure enough, he barely came off the bridle and coasted home by three and a half lengths. "He's a big baby and still learning," Fallon said. "He'll be a lovely horse for next year."
Though represented by a warm favourite in Lizard Island, Fallon and O'Brien had no such luck in the Beresford Stakes, a race that reliably identifies a rising star. Last year's winner, Eagle Mountain, subsequently ran second in the Derby, and Totesport cut Curtain Call to 20-1 for Epsom after he led throughout and stretched four lengths clear. The Sadler's Wells colt is trained by Jessica Harrington, lately enjoying conspicuous success with her Flat runners.
There was obvious symmetry between US Ranger's performance and the success of Haatef in the John Guest Diadem Stakes here at Ascot. This colt also failed to get home in the 2,000 Guineas, and confirmed sprinting to be his métier when just thwarting Dark Missile in a photo. While his veteran trainer, Kevin Prendergast, continues to command universal respect on the Irish Turf, many will be heartbroken for the rider of the runner-up, Hayley Turner. A late replacement for Francis Norton, whose wife had been taken to hospital, her performance here confirmed that her talent will only be confined by opportunity.
The other Group race on the card was won decisively by Ask, and perhaps his owner's hankering to send him hurdling might yet be pondered by Sir Michael Stoute. But the day's most impressive performance came from Ibn Khaldun, who outclassed his rivals for the nursery and will in future be contesting races more in keeping with his pedigree. His dam, Goss-amer, once won a Group One prize at this fixture, and Ibn Khaldun consolidated the impression that Godolphin is restoring itself as a force in juvenile Pattern races – and so, by extension, in the Classics.
These are heartening days for the stable, which had increased its considerable debt to Ramonti in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes the previous day. This Panzer among thoroughbreds may lack the exotic brilliance of Dubai Millennium, but should be scarcely less cherished by his masters. Their sole Group One scorer in 2007, he has often seemed to stand alone on the burning deck.
There can be no question that the stable has not met its own exacting standards in Europe over the past couple of seasons. But Sheikh Mohammed's unprecedented spending spree on new stallions will refresh its resources in the long term, while Godolphin could yet collect its first juvenile Group One prize since 2004 on Arc day. Rio De La Plata, who confirmed his class by passing all bar New Approach at the Curragh last month, is on course for the Prix Lagardère, and Laureldean Gale, a new recruit, for the Prix Marcel Boussac.
The Godolphin managers have no doubt been affronted by some of the criticism they have endured this year. They have spoken of only being able to play the cards they are dealt, but other trainers will consider that a bit rich. After all, the only other stable with access to so many aces is Ballydoyle, which just happens to be supervised by a genius. Regardless, Saeed bin Suroor and his team have demonstrably excelled with Ramonti since his arrival from Italy. It seemed that his big chance might have slipped through his grasp in the Lockinge, but he has not only held his form since, but improved.
Simon Crisford reported that Ramonti had emerged from his latest battle with characteristic nonchalance. "He licked his manger out, he's sound, and looking for a scrap," the Godolphin manager said. "And that's good, because he has been on the go since March, and is so hard on himself in every race. He just gives everything, every time, and of course he has been performing at championship level throughout."
Ramonti was beaten only a head in the Italian Derby and his generous nature implies that he could yet discover still greater heights beyond a mile. Crisford remained "hesitant" about the idea of sending him to the Breeders' Cup Mile, but did not discount the possibility of trying him over a mile and a quarter in Hong Kong in December.
As it happens, Godolphin's rivals at Ballydoyle are probably unfortunate not to have beaten Ramonti on Saturday. As at Goodwood, Excellent Art finished best but had been left with just too much to do. Whereas he had seemed to struggle with the track at Goodwood, this time he was briefly, but crucially, delayed in traffic on the home turn. In his obliging way, Ramonti had meanwhile stolen a five-length start, in the process proving himself no less effective on softer ground.
If Jamie Spencer was frustrated by his defeat on Excellent Art, his mood will not have been improved yesterday when Seb Sanders rode four winners at Musselburgh, and so resumed the lead (150-148) in their duel for the jockeys' championship.Reuse content