Kieren Fallon's 'profound' illness needs hospital treatment
Kieren Fallon announced his immediate retirement yesterday as it emerged that he had been in a long struggle with depression.
In the spring and early summer, it had seemed as if the 51-year-old six-time champion jockey was thriving once again.
He had returned to Ireland following a spell in the United States, and taken a job on the Curragh as stable jockey to up-and-coming trainer Michael O’Callaghan.
Fallon had claimed nine domestic winners, with the help of other old associates, along with seven in Britain. Adrian Keatley had provided doubles on visits to Ayr, he would travel across the Irish Sea on spare afternoons, and he had three rides at Royal Ascot.
However, he took a fall on the gallops last week and has not appeared on the track since June 26. Fallon keeps in regular contact with the Irish Turf Club’s chief medical officer, Dr Adrian McGoldrick, who made a statement on his behalf.
“I first became aware of it when he came to see me for his licence earlier this year and he was obviously very significantly depressed,” McGoldrick said. “Kieren’s had quite significant depression ongoing for the best part of three years, which has gone undiagnosed in England and America.
“It got worse and I met with him on Sunday and have arranged to have it managed. He went to see a specialist in America and nobody picked up on it.
“It’s quite profound depression. As soon as I can get a bed organised for him, he’ll be going to hospital here in Ireland.
“Hopefully, we can get him managed and get him ready for the next stage of his life. He said he won’t be returning to race riding afterwards and will move on to another phase of his career, whatever that might be.
“He felt himself he had no motivation for the last two or three years and that had affected his depression. At this stage of his life, he feels he has to move on.
“We know that a lot of elite athletes have depression. I commissioned a survey in racing last year and 49pc of jockeys in Ireland actually had symptoms of depression.”
As in other sports, few have gone public about mental health issues. Irish jumps jockey Mark Enwright circulated a story about an appendix problem last year to explain his absence from the track but later revealed that he had been in therapy and, with McGoldrick's help, had started to turn the corner.
In May, Fallon credited McGoldrick for helping with an unspecified problem.
"I'm enjoying it for the first time in a long time and I'm feeling much better than I did last year," he said. "Last year, my riding was very weak and I had a lot of blood tests and things, but he was able to sort it."
Fallon's professional career during the time that would tally with McGoldrick's assessment of his depression was typically bumpy.
He had tried riding as a freelance, recording the most recent of his 15 British Classic winners, the 2,000 Guineas of 2014 aboard Night Of Thunder, and establishing a link with Godolphin. By that October, he had decided he needed a fresh start in California.
"Without Night Of Thunder and trainer Saeed Bin Suroor this year, I'd have been dead," Fallon said at the time. "If you're not riding good winners on the big days, it fizzles out."
Fallon drifted back to Britain by the spring, renewing some acquaintances but struggling without a major backer. He injured a foot and disappeared back to the US without telling his agent, and could never get any momentum going.
O'Callaghan intends to keep him occupied, saying: "It's been great to have him here and he is going to remain here as a work rider and adviser, hopefully for a while to come - he's just giving up the race riding. He is worth his weight in gold to us here, but the main thing is that we just want what is best for Kieren."