Thursday 27 April 2017

seeking seventh heaven

Regaining championship the main aim for revitalised Fallon

Chris McGrath

He sits under a poolside parasol, iced juice to hand, his lissom young partner lounging alongside him. In his shades you see the idlers, the beauties, the children splashing in the water. To cap it all, he is here in Dubai to ride one of the favourites for the richest prize in Turf history.

After everything he has been through, here is all the reward anyone could seek. Except, with Kieren Fallon, you know always to expect a paradox. And the fact is that he can barely wait to forsake this paradise to be in Doncaster.

The chance to win today's Dubai World Cup on Gitano Hernando has persuaded the Clare native to miss the first day of the British Flat season. But he will jump on a plane straight after, desperate to begin what would amount to one of sport's epic revivals -- a quest for his seventh jockeys championship, seven years after his sixth.

"I know this is a big meeting but I must admit I'm nearly looking forward more to Sunday, to kicking off the season," he says. "I'm looking forward to this year more than any other, ever."

On horseback, this restlessness has made him one of the greatest jockeys of all time. Elsewhere in his life, notoriously, it has been a source of instability and misapprehension. Clumsily persecuted by authority, in his time Fallon has sought perilous sanctuary in drink, drugs and disaffection.

Three years of his pomp were squandered in various prohibitions, the last of them ending only last September. At 45, the cat is surely living his ninth life.

It is in this light we can see the true significance of what happened at Lingfield last Saturday, when the owner of another horse punched Fallon. The jockey does not wish to dignify such an individual with attention here, other than to highlight a lack of racecourse security for jockeys. His girlfriend, Kirsty Milczarek, is also an accomplished jockey and recalls having a pint of beer thrown over her at Doncaster.

But she also identifies the latent comfort in the Lingfield episode. For there was surely a time when Fallon (right), in the heat of the moment, would at least have tried to defend himself. "I know I haven't many years left riding," he shrugs. "And I want to use them all."

His focus seems just where it should be -- keeping himself out of trouble, and retrieving the crown usurped, during his troubles, by Ryan Moore.

ammunition

"If they hadn't introduced this rule, confining us to nine meetings a week, I'd be confident," he says. "Because the harder I work, the better I get. It's a bit like getting through the pain barrier. Ryan has a big stable behind him, and so has Frankie (Dettori). I won't have their ammunition, so while they won't have to be all-out, I probably will.

"To win the championship, though, you have to pace yourself. You can't burn out before the season starts properly -- start getting suspensions, start getting tired. You need to be happy in yourself. But it does help to hit the ground running. You don't win championships from off the pace."

Moore won the title last year with 174 winners. Fallon has ridden 200 four times. "So I know what I'm capable of, when I'm working hard," he says. "Whether I can do the same, from just nine meetings, might be a different story."

Fallon's greatest spur is the instant success he enjoyed after ending an 18-month ban, for a second failed drugs test, last September. Though rusty, he rode so many winners so quickly that titles won by others in the meantime suddenly seemed hollow.

"When a boxer picks a sparring partner, he always picks the best he can," he says. "So Ryan was the one I had my eye on. I had to match him, and beat him. That was my target, besides getting race fitness. And to the end of the turf season I had two more winners, from more or less the same number of rides."

During his ban, Fallon had ridden three lots on most mornings for Michael Stoute (a previous boss, who nowadays employs Moore) followed by daily sessions with a personal trainer and various squash partners. Before his licence could be restored, he had to undergo a physical -- an intensive, half-hour workout, after which his pulse recovery was timed.

"And the fellow was looking at the gadget with this look on his face, as if there were a problem. He said it must be broken. They said they had never seen a heart rate like mine."

What he had most needed, however, was heart of another kind. Given that he's depicted as a vulnerable character, historically prone to the wrong company, he has displayed colossal mental strength just to get this far. But then it is easy to forget the hard road he first took, from remote Co Clare.

"When I started out with Kevin Prendergast, I was one of 10 apprentices, all after the same chance.

"And I was a late starter. Yes, I was riding bareback when I was young and wild, but didn't sit on a horse with a saddle and bridle until I was 18."

He has never forgotten the panorama from the summit he eventually attained, for all the storm clouds since. Listening to him, it is easy to understand why other jockeys panic whenever they hear that trademark whistle of his, encouraging his mounts to join issue.

"I do have a lot of confidence," he says. "It's a bit like Phil Taylor. That's why he's so successful. There are plenty other darts players out there, and some of them may even be more talented. But he just worries them out of it."

They say that you only begin the journey back by first reaching rock bottom. "You do indeed," Fallon says. "Fortunately, I had Stoutey. That was a big boost. Then that start I had in September -- I was riding winners every day. Even though it was only Wolverhampton or Lingfield, I was getting my confidence back.

"Because the worry was always: will your bottle still be intact? Even more important: will horses still run for you? You do worry. Are all those things still going to be there?

"That's why my inspiration has to be Lester (Piggott). He'd done time, for God's sake, and he was 10 or 11 years older than me, with a weight problem. And he still came out and beat the best in the world (at the Breeders' Cup)."

Having found his feet at home, last autumn Fallon went to Santa Anita to beat the best in America on today's horse, Gitano Hernando. "Yes, that was another step for the confidence. Then a winter here in the sun, the chance to freshen up. That's what I want, that buzz. And I will get it. I know I will. And then you build on it, every day. Until you think you can walk on water."

Irish Independent

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