Thursday 19 April 2018

Billy Keane: It's Now Or Never at Curragh for Fallon as fallen hero rises to fight again

Kieren Fallon: He can get morose when the winners aren’t coming in but he’s having fun again (Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy)
Kieren Fallon: He can get morose when the winners aren’t coming in but he’s having fun again (Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy)
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

We met up at Tralee Races for a chat. Kieren Fallon man- whispered that he was in a spot of bother in France.

Kieren told me he tested positive for a pick-me-up from a cold remedy. We were thinking of doing a book together and while I could claim to know him really well, I'm pretty certain Kieren actually believed himself.

The French racing authority were of the opinion that Kieren's cure must have had stronger stuff as an active ingredient.

Coolmore had given him chances in the past but this was one mistake too many. Kieren lost the best job in racing.

But then there's a vulnerability about him and a likeability too. Like most jockeys, Fallon left home when he was a kid. The young boy from Crusheen in rural Clare missed out on a lot of rearing and schooling.

The former champion is friendly. He never refuses autographs or photographs. The former champion is modest and hard-working. Kieren has given away most of his racing memorabilia to various charities and has been known to help out friends with money troubles. And I'm told there were many.

I often think if Kieren stayed up on his horse, well then his life would be very easy indeed. Trouble followed him and he followed trouble.

But Kieren Fallon was always in control in the saddle. Aidan O'Brien considers Kieren to be close on the best horseman he has ever seen and there were far more triumphs than failures.

Fallon had the ride on O'Brien's Dylan Thomas in 2007 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Dylan Thomas was an eight-lengths seventh coming into the straight. The horse was tired after a long season. Dylan Thomas decided a meander was the shortest distance between two points. The horse changed lanes without indicating but Fallon kept his nerve.


Dylan was allowed find the far side running rail in his own time. Most jockeys would have pulled their mounts to the left and away from trouble. But then the flow and power of the last drive would be lost. Fallon took a huge gamble. Dylan Thomas just about kept the race in the stewards' room.

I thought Kieren would crack on that Arc day. The following day he was in the Old Bailey on race-fixing charges and was suspended from riding in England where guilty until proven innocent is the norm in racing.

Fallon was cleared after three-and-a-half years of "your head being fried". The story that Fallon was found with prohibited substances in his system came out days after the Arc. Later on, there was an 18-month ban for failing the French test. Job gone. Fallon was a broken man. But he came back and rode Classic winners.

And now he's back again, at 52. This weekend Fallon rides in tomorrow's Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh for 27-year-old Michael O'Callaghan. The two seem to have clicked. Fallon says O'Callaghan has "a great eye for a horse". Fallon, who can get morose when the winners aren't coming in, is having fun again.

Their filly Now Or Never is well fancied in the 1,000 Guineas. The Fallon factor came into play and the Arabs bought the filly for huge money.

The rolling mile of the Curragh will stretch before Kieren in its May greenery. The track is one huge field without a ditch or a dyke. It takes figuring out.

This evening Pimlico hosts the second leg of the American Triple Crown. The old bendy dirt track is surrounded by houses and huge barns but there's horse history there and a football-match atmosphere. The turnstiles at Pimlico will go to 180 degrees 50,000 times. Crowds at the two Curragh days together might come to a third of that. But the soap star Fallon is always box-office.

I have just finished reading 'American Pharoah' by Joe Drape and the book is as good as it gets when it comes to sports writing. American Pharoah won the second leg of the American Triple Crown last year in Pimlico. He went on to become the first horse to complete the Triple Crown in 37 years. And yes I know Pharaoh is misspelt to 'Pharoah'.

American Pharoah was owned by Ahmed Fayed, an orthodox Jew, from Egypt of all places. His ancestors must have turned back when Moses parted the Red Sea. Fayed is a huge punter and he owed some money from time to time. Drape sees the human side of Fayed and in the end we get to like him. The man has bottle and like Fallon he is hopelessly in thrall to the sport of horse racing. The book is full of dodgy but very human characters. Just like here at home.

My brother John sums it up best of all: "Not everyone who goes racing is a chancer but all chancers go racing."

The only unblemished racing person in Drape's excellent read is my neighbour Frances Relihan. I remember this tiny pig-tailed kid heading off to gymkhanas with her tiny pony.

Frances went on to manage a prestigious racing farm in the bluegrass horse country of Kentucky. She broke and reared American Pharoah. Frances was his teacher in junior infants until he was ready to go in to training. Drape gives Frances full credit for educating the triple champion. Very proud of you girl.


Frances and Kieren have spent all of their lives around horses. There is no more impressive sight than the thoroughbred in full flight but the racing people love the nuzzling up, the rearing, the friendships, the figuring out and the being with horses day and night. Kieren loves Now Or Never best of all and he rides her out every day.

Never was a horse more aptly named in the context of Kieren's career. It really is Now Or Never.

Fallen heroes are the most loved. Fallen heroes who fall most often are loved best of all.

But this is Kieren's last chance. The man who has ridden winners on all the king's horses and for all the kings men has been put back together again by a young trainer who believes in him.

Stay up on that wall this time Kieren, whatever you do.

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