Sport Horse Racing

Monday 11 December 2017

Fallon rises in greatest comeback of all

Godolphin coup puts 49-year-old on major upswing

Kieren Fallon riding Night Of Thunder win the 2000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket
Kieren Fallon riding Night Of Thunder win the 2000 Guineas Stakes at Newmarket

Ian McClean

Perhaps the most alluring sporting narrative of them all is that of the comeback. The Type A comeback is in the individual event. From "Botham's Ashes" in 1981 through to Liverpool's Champions League 3-0 turnaround in 2005, to the European Ryder Cup team's Miracle in Medinah in 2012 – each serves as a luminous landmark in the sporting canon. These gravity-defying individual acts are trumped only by the "career comeback".

Jonah Lomu's recovery from a kidney transplant; Muhammad Ali's reprisal after a seven- year gap to defeat George Foreman in 1974; and Magic Johnson's return during the 1990s after announcing he had HIV are just some examples of deeper stories of resilience and fortitude that continue to enthral. Kieren Fallon isn't quite in the same category just yet, but it could just be his chequered career is arcing into a U-turn after the events of last weekend at Newmarket's classic fixture.

Chequered is often overused as a past description, but is absolutely appropriate in Fallon's case. About to meet his half century next year, during his tenure the six-times champion jockey has ridden as stable number one for each of the three greatest contemporary trainers of our generation – Henry Cecil, Michael Stoute and Aidan O'Brien. Yet in spite of that his litany of misdemeanours includes pulling Stuart Webster off his horse at Beverley in 1994; the Top Cees Sporting Life libel trial in 1998; his dismissal from the Cecil post without explanation two months after winning Guineas, Derby and Oaks in 1999; News of the World allegations of race-fixing and subsequent arrest in 2004; a ban in the UK in 2006 whilst under investigation for "conspiracy to defraud" Betfair customers; and a further French ban for 18 months for a drug offence in 2008.

Since his return to riding in September 2009, his impact has been steady but unspectacular and things looked like diminishing further when his latter association with the Luca Cumani yard began to wane. To the point that Fallon was seriously considering his options at the end of last campaign. He confessed: "It's all about getting on the right horses. I wasn't doing that last year and so I had stopped enjoying it. At this stage of my career, I couldn't go on just making up the numbers. You need to be winning, because you get used to it."

By then many commentators had already chosen the obituary pen for Fallon's career. Fallon even considered abandoning the northern hemisphere entirely for Australia. "I thought about going to ride in Australia and would have given it a try if the winter hadn't gone well in Dubai. But I got into the Godolphin set-up, riding good horses for Saeed [bin Suroor] and that has continued over here. I'm in a good place now, enjoying the routine. Getting on good horses means everything to me."

Last weekend at Newmarket marked a significant watershed for Fallon and his career. In winning the 2,000 Guineas on 40/1 Richard Hannon cast-off Night Of Thunder, the Clare-man was winning his first British classic since Alexandrova in 2006 – adding unexpectedly to his previous tally of 15 classics and making him the eighth most successful UK classic-winning jockey in history.

The Guineas victory, along with the subsequent announcement (live on RUK) by Godolphin's trainer Saeed bin Suroor that Fallon would partner their leading Derby contender True Story (starting in the Dante on Thursday) has suddenly threatened to propel his ailing career in the polar opposite direction.

Bin Suroor said: "We enjoyed using Kieren Fallon in Dubai earlier this year, both as a jockey and a work rider. He came to Al Quoz and exercised the horses every morning as well as recording major wins at Meydan on Prince Bishop and Excellent Result.

"Kieren is a world-class jockey, who has recorded many Group One victories, and we would like to continue using him. He rode True Story in his work on Saturday morning and we have decided that he will partner the colt in the Betfred Dante Stakes.

"We hope to be well-represented at all of the major British meetings this year and Kieren will ride for us along with Silvestre de Sousa."

The website post only appeared after Bin Suroor had announced as much in a live interview on RUK – much to the apparent astonishment of De Sousa who had been retained as first jockey since February 2012 and had partnered True Story last time out to an ultra-impressive victory in the Feilden Stakes at the Newmarket Craven meeting. Whatever about public relations, it cannot have done a lot for employee relations – demonstrating early and first-hand the impact of the absence of a Simon Crisford in the camp.

And so, a benign wind has blown one last unlikely opportunity in 49-year-old Fallon's direction. Where once recently he saw no future, now suddenly one has appeared. Now, in addition to the plum role with Cecil, Stoute and O'Brien, Fallon can add Godolphin to the CV. That's like a footballer who has played for Liverpool, Man United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the same career.

When, back in August 1996 – one month after riding Dazzle to victory in the Cherry Hinton for Michael Stoute – Fallon was announced as first jockey for Cecil, it was greeted with amazement. Here was a 32-year-old northern-based jockey who had never previously partnered a Group One winner getting jocked up for the number one job in the land. The naysayers had knives out in readiness and when Bosra Sham got boxed in in the 1997 Eclipse and Fallon got removed from Wafic Said's star filly (as well as Lady Carla), they moved in for the kill. Critics wrote how Fallon had been promoted above his ability. However, Fallon quietly went on to ride 15 winners in the week following the Eclipse. He went on to win the Sussex at the end of that month on Ali Royal and broke the 20- winner barrier that same year.

In a career characterised by as many backswings as upswings, it appears we may be catching Fallon on a most unlikely up – at the very moment it appeared he might finally be forced to retire his clubs.

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