Fallon tale a reminder of lost glory
Documentary on top jockey cannot eradicate impression BBC has given up on the sport
Wednesday 16 December 2009
Though few can have learned anything new from the BBC documentary about Kieren Fallon, it none the less proved an instructive exercise. For Monday's Inside Sport surely renewed in many viewers a profound regret, not just on behalf of the six-times champion jockey, but also with regard to the BBC.
Familiar as it is, the rollercoaster of Fallon's career could hardly fail to produce arresting television. But it was poignant all the same to reflect that such professional treatment and, above all, such breadth of coverage should be an increasingly rare privilege for racing.
Here was an example of what is being lost to racing as the BBC progressively distances itself from the sport. The incongruous timing of the programme, halfway through the jumps season, showed how the BBC has abandoned any obligation to the calendar. Such a programme on the eve of the Flat season would represent a terrific stimulus to the curiosity of viewers. But that is of little importance to those who have decided that the expertise of Clare Balding (and an experienced production team) should now be seen only in isolated, sporadic visits to the Turf.
The influence of all such decisions – of all BBC editorial policy, in fact – was reiterated when Fallon's "revelation" that there is a drugs problem in Newmarket was slavishly catapulted onto the news agenda on the eve of the programme. He might as well have shocked us with the suggestion that there is a heavy trade in straw and shavings in the town, as well.
The extent of the problem has long been responsibly debated, within the racing parish and its press, but the fact that it should find its way onto the BBC gives it sudden legitimacy as a talking point. In turn, it then becomes necessary to correct the inevitable misapprehensions.
Drugs are not "rife" in racing, and Fallon acknowledged that his own history of drug violations made him an exception among jockeys. In Newmarket, meanwhile, it is felt that heartening progress has been made since a distressing series of suicides, four years ago, awakened the town from any complacency. Thanks to community and charity work, the issue is no longer considered disproportionate to a population of uncommon social diversity.
Fallon only returned in September after serving a second long suspension for a failed drugs tests. Everything he has said and done since implies that he knows he has used up his ninth life. "I don't know how many years I have left," he told Balding. "But I'll be working hard to do things right."
He spoke of how his life had been "spiralling out of control" during his ham-fisted persecution by police investigating allegations of race-fixing. Despite his innocence, he went to the Old Bailey dreading that the others involved in the case might have done things that could bring him down with them. There were one or two other fresh insights. It was marvellous, for instance, to hear him protest that he had ridden "a brilliant race" on the infamous Ballinger Ridge until bungling as he eased down. His most revealing admission, however, came in response to a question about his vulnerability to troublemakers. "Possibly because I was never educated," he said. "I didn't come from the right place."
The old insecurity abides, then. But any viewers fresh to the story will surely be desperate to find out what happens next. What a pity that there's so little point tuning into the BBC to find out.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Mr Plod (7.50 Kempton) Matched improvement over hurdles since switching yard when a stylish winner on return to the Flat, and subsequent success of runner-up suggests he can defy a penalty here.
My Best Bet (8.50 Kempton) Made a winning start for new trainer at Lingfield last time, and the gradual manner of success suggests this course – not being so sharp – could prompt further improvement.
One to watch
Rockfield Lodge (I Williams) has joined an in-form stable and perseverance over 7f at Southwell, going strongly before fading late, disguised fact that he is now handicapped to strike when returned to sprints.
Where the money's going
Pepe Simo is 7-1 from 8-1 with sponsors to keep Paul Nicholls rolling on in Ladbroke Handicap at Ascot on Saturday.
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