Fallon ditches Native for Recital
EPSOM week got off to a pretty sensational start yesterday when Kieren Fallon discarded one of the leading fancies for the Derby in order to rebuild bridges with his former employers at Ballydoyle.
Nor were his incentives for breaking a commitment to Native Khan confined to Recital, one of four runners for the Tipperary stable on Saturday. Fallon has also been booked for Wonder Of Wonders, which has outstanding prospects in the Oaks the previous afternoon. With pleasing symmetry, Native Khan is now likely to be ridden by Johnny Murtagh, who succeeded Fallon at Ballydoyle but resigned the post last autumn.
Trainer Ed Dunlop had earlier in the day approached Olivier Peslier, who partnered Native Khan into third place in the 2,000 Guineas, but the French veteran has been retained by the Wertheimer brothers to ride at Longchamp on the same afternoon.
The Aga Khan-retained Murtagh neither confirmed nor denied the speculation when approached at Ballinrobe last night. But he did reveal he was "in the running" to ride in the mile-and-a-half showpiece at Epsom.
"I have to speak to the Aga Khan first," said Murtagh, who rode Dunlop's mighty Ouija Board in the 2004 Arc.
Just like old times, then -- and not simply because Aidan O'Brien will once again be hoisting the most successful Epsom jockey of his day into the saddle. The whole situation is reminiscent of an era when Lester Piggott's ruthless choice of mount in the Derby guaranteed a groundswell of support from the betting public.
At 46, Fallon is approaching the veteran stage, but experience is priceless round Epsom, and the bottom line is that he has won the Derby and Oaks three and four times respectively.
It might well have been more, moreover, but for the various prohibitions that intruded on his prime, between 2006 and '09. To win either Classic would represent his most precious achievement since his comeback.
Of course, the Clare native's decision could yet backfire. Among the home colts, only Carlton House is ahead of Native Khan in the Derby betting. Fallon was suspended when the grey, partnered by Peslier, finished third to Frankel in the 2,000 Guineas. He subsequently won the Derrinstown Trial at Leopardstown on Recital.
Recital was only Fallon's second mount for Ballydoyle since he had so tested the patience of the stable's owners during his tenure as their retained jockey. But Murtagh's defection has left John Magnier and his partners in Coolmore to rely on the best available -- above all in the big races outside Ireland. Sure enough, after the Derrinstown, O'Brien indicated that Fallon had been asked to make Recital's acquaintance with Epsom in mind.
That was received with due bemusement by Dunlop, trainer of Native Khan, whose owners were understood to have secured a commitment from the six-time champion jockey. Fallon even rode Native Khan in his public excursion round Tattenham Corner last Thursday.
In the event, however, he appears to have decided that past obligations to Coolmore supersede even any formal undertakings he may have made -- though Wonder Of Wonders presumably helped to quieten his conscience.
Dunlop received the snub with customary dignity, no doubt consoled by the fact that Murtagh himself has a superb Epsom record. "Obviously I'm disappointed for the clients, who specifically wanted Kieren," Dunlop said. "But I'm very happy with our replacement. We must not forget the horse has run five times, and Fallon has actually only ridden him twice."
Ballydoyle's other principal Derby hope, Seville, will be ridden by Christophe Soumillon. Certainly Soumillon needs to have learned a thing or two from the Dante Stakes, as he made culpably little use of Seville's stamina and allowed Carlton House the better of a sprint finish. The extra distance, and likely stronger gallop, could make things much closer between them on Saturday.
Treasure Beach, which looks a good price, will be ridden by Colm O'Donoghue; and O'Brien's son Joseph partners Memphis Tennessee, runner-up in the Derrinstown. Roderic O'Connor heads to Chantilly on Sunday instead.
Seamus Heffernan, meanwhile, gets his chance on Misty For Me, which joins Wonder Of Wonders in the Oaks. (© Independent News Service)