Fallon: The good, the bad and the ugly
On Monday, Kieren Fallon confirmed that he would partner Recital rather than Native Khan in this afternoon's Epsom Derby. Nothwithstanding the legal objections of Native Khan's owner, the likelihood of it being any other way was always slim.
Since his return from 18 months in exile after testing positive for cocaine, Fallon has been deprived of the endless supply of big-race mounts that previously defined his chequered career. He got back in the saddle in the autumn of 2009, but the question of whether he would again command the privileges of old remained unresolved.
In the interim, he has steered clear of scandal, proving that his famously intense ambition still burns by grafting his way to fourth place in last year's British jockeys' championship with 111 winners. Through all of 2010, he totalled no less than 141.
Numbers, though, are not what feed the former champion's desire. For him, salvation will be found in the glamour events, the same ones that elevated this most compelling of characters above the many trials of a salacious and tabloid-friendly past.
With 21 British and Irish Classic triumphs to his name, Fallon (46) is one of the most decorated Flat jockeys riding.
At Epsom, in particular, where he has amassed three Derbies and four Oaks -- and where he has twice won both Classics in the same year -- he is regarded as second only to the flawed icon of another era, the similarly ruthless Lester Piggott.
When Aidan O'Brien came calling ahead of the Derrinstown Derby Trial last month, then, the conversation will have been brief. O'Brien has the muscle Fallon needs to complete his renaissance and Fallon is a jockey that the Ballydoyle kingpin trusts.
In that context, Fallon's decision to vacate the seat on the 2,000 Guineas third to ride Recital today was about more than just the Derby.
It was also about yesterday's Oaks, no less the very live prospect of stepping in for Ryan Moore when coveted spares inevitably become available on the likes of So You Think and St Nicholas Abbey.
Besides, with Fallon up, Recital's Derby chance would improve exponentially. Then again, with Johnny Murtagh up, so does Native Khan's, while Moore's presence on Carlton House could ensure a showdown between three of the finest riders in the business.
Should fortune fall Kieren Fallon's way, victory might signal the beginning of an unlikely encore for the plasterer's son who first left his native Crusheen to embark on a belated apprenticeship at Kevin Prendergast's Kildare yard at 18 years of age.
Indeed, it might even draw a line under his constant struggle with his own greatest foe -- himself.
That battle has been a long and difficult one.
1 His utter superiority on the big day at Epsom. Apart from maybe Johnny Murtagh and Ryan Moore, there isn't another jockey riding who could hold a candle to Fallon around the most intricate of Flat courses.
Despite missing out between 2007 and 2009, his record of three Derbies and four Oaks triumphs remains unsurpassed.
Nowhere does his uncanny blend of steel nerve, tactical smarts and bristling strength manifest itself so effectively. Today he could get a chance to recapture the magic.
2 A portrait of the artist as champion jockey. Fallon has never looked more comfortable in his own skin than when channelling that feral intensity of his to six championships between 1997 and 2003.
Pat Eddery won the last of his 11 titles in 1996, and Fallon's concentrated focus and determined energy anointed him a natural successor to the perennial champion. The prospect of him finally regaining the crown this term is not out of the question.
3 The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe-winning ride on Dylan Thomas in 2007. On the eve of his race-fixing trial in London, Fallon produced a signature performance in the prestigious Longchamp Group One. Just as the commentator declared that the Derby winner Authorized was "absolutely cantering" turning in, Fallon's unique crouch filled the eye.
Authorized faltered, as Dylan Thomas stole into the lead. Youmzain flashed home late but, typically, Fallon had timed it to perfection, scoring by a head.
4 An indefatigable ability to bounce back. For all his flaws and brushes with authority, Fallon has refused to accept whatever fate has thrown at him.
Much of his turmoil is self-inflicted, but that he is still going at all, after a catalogue of suspensions, substance abuse, serious injury and a criminal trial, is commendable. His latest return from 18 months in exile could yet be the ultimate show of defiance.
1 That ride on Ballinger Ridge at Lingfield. March 2, 2004 was when it all started to go wrong. Fallon gave Andrew Balding's charge a textbook steer from the front, opening up an unassailable lead before turning for home.
Or so it seemed. Fallon inexcusably eased up his mount, and a short-head defeat fed the conspiracy theorists' frenzy. Betting exchanges highlighted suspicious betting patterns, before the whole sorry episode culminated in a race-fixing trial that collapsed in December 2007.
2 The naivety he has displayed throughout his career. Few in such privileged positions could boast Fallon's impregnable talent for befriending the wrong people.
Whether that deficiency in judgement is part of a more sinister nuance is exactly the kind of thing that polarises opinion, but a Panorama 'expose' in 2008 demonstrated fairly conclusively that he was guilty of little more than an incredibly poor choice of friend.
3 That other ride on Bosra Sham. As Henry Cecil's newly appointed stable jockey in 1997, Fallon inherited the mount on one of the greatest fillies of all time.
On their first big assignment in the Eclipse at Sandown, Fallon got caught in a pocket, and made for a nonexistent gap on the inside rail. The manoeuvre cost Bosra Sham the race -- and Fallon the ride. It was the first and last time he got it so wrong in a Group One.
4 Although it's a detail often overlooked, a crushing fall at Royal Ascot in 2000 nearly brought Fallon's career to a premature end. On course for a fourth successive title and now Michael Stoute's first choice rider, he endured a serious shoulder injury that forced him to relinquish his title.
Fallon underwent five hours of surgery to reconstruct his shoulder, before reclaiming his crown the following year.
1 In 2006, Fallon received a six-month ban for use of a prohibited substance. Just months after that suspension lapsed, and less than 24 hours after his race-fixing trial collapsed, the news broke that he had again tested positive for cocaine.
This time he was handed an 18-month exclusion. He had previously received treatment for an alcohol dependency in 2003, so it's no wonder that Aidan O'Brien once commented that he "understood (Fallon) had addiction problems" when he first took him on.
2 His inner fury. Twice in the mid-90s Fallon had to be disciplined for striking a mount -- on one occasion over the head -- with his whip in the stalls..
Around the same time, he received a seven-day ban for hitting fellow jockey Chris Rutter with his whip, before the authorities handed him a six-month holiday for pulling Stuart Webster off his horse in 1994. His temper is one thing that he has learned to control.
3 Fallon's rare talent has seen him secure the three biggest gigs in Flat racing, yet each position was inexplicably relinquished.
Within two months of landing his first Derby on Oath for Henry Cecil in 1999, he was sacked, following an alleged affair with the trainer's second wife. He then hooked up with Michael Stoute, for whom he won two more Derbies, only to renege on a freshly signed contract in 2005 to instead join Aidan O'Brien.
That formal association ended after the rider's second drugs ban.
4This week's decision to abandon Native Khan in favour of Recital in today's Epsom Derby.
Having reportedly committed to ride for the Ed Dunlop-trained colt's owner Ibrahim Araci this season, it was a somewhat undignified departure that echoed the way Fallon deserted Michael Stoute, also in favour of Ballydoyle, back in 2005.
The big time, though, is what drives Fallon, so no one was surprised to learn on Monday that he had again been seduced by Ballydoyle's overtures.
Except for Araci, that is.