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Kieren Fallon

You can see Kieren Fallon standing at the entrance to the weigh room as you approach, mobile phone pressed to ear.

“I’ll have a word with Tommy,” he is saying, lip movement slightly out of kilter with the voice that you are hearing in your own ear through your mobile phone, like the sound track has gone awry. “See if he will let you in.” He smiles at the gentleman standing to his right, and looks back in your direction. “I see you now.”

Tommy Burke is listening intently to Kieren when you reach the weigh room.

“You should have been there last night Tommy,” the jockey is saying. “There was a Kilkenny jersey signed by all members of the Kilkenny hurling team. And a hurl and a sliotar. You would have loved it.”

He breaks to shake your hand, introduce you to Tommy, a Kilkenny man, and fill you in on the gala dinner and auction that was held in Limerick the previous evening in aid of injured jockey J.P. McNamara. What Fallon doesn’t tell Tommy is that he donated the number cloth worn by Dylan Thomas when he won the Irish Champion Stakes, which made €1,100. Or that he was one of the first people to respond, when asked, to say that he would be delighted to attend the event. Or that he was a willing participant in just about every photo that anybody wanted to have taken throughout the evening. You have to get event organiser Frankie Ward to tell you that later.


It is not easy to find a quiet spot in the weigh room at The Curragh on Beresford Stakes day. A refuge from the hustle-bustle. Kieren sits down on the bench, crosses his legs and unzips his body protector. Twenty-two group race winners in the UK and Ireland so far this season, you tell him. Not bad, all things considered. Most jockeys would give their eye teeth for that tally. Not this one.

“It’s a pity really,” he says. “I wanted to ride more Group 1 winners this season than I had ever ridden before, and I thought that we had the horses to do it this year.”

“But you’ve won the Guineas,” I remind him. “The Queen Anne, the Ascot Gold Cup, the Irish Derby, the Irish Champion Stakes … ?”

“I know.” Nods his head.

“Not enough?”

“No, I mean, I’ve ridden 12 Group 1 winners, but I’ve missed a lot. I would have loved to have ridden George Washington in the QE2. I could have had 13, 14, 15, maybe more. There were a couple in America as well. Ivan Denisovich was second in the Secretariat Stakes. Ad Valorem was third in the Woodbine Mile. Ace in the Arlington Million.”

“If you had been riding Ace,” I venture, “you might have gone close?”

“Well, I wouldn’t have been sitting out the back anyway,” he says. “You know what I mean? These guys don’t know the horses.”

“Is it a big deal to know the horse?”

“Bloody sure it is.”

“Ace needed to be ridden more aggressively?”

“He probably did,” he replies. “You see the American boys … I’m not knocking the American boys, but they tend to ride the grass like they ride the dirt. They tend to leave the horse go at a pace at which he is comfortable. I don’t think that way.”

If there is one thing that Fallon does better than any other jockey, it’s think. If there’s one thing that sets him apart, that makes him better than almost every other jockey riding today in Europe, in the world, it’s his depth of thought. Where is the pace going to come from, where should you be, where should you not be, whom should you track. On Alexandrova in the Oaks, he angled out early to ensure that the filly wouldn’t be denied a clear run. On Dylan Thomas in the Irish Champion Stakes, he allowed Ouija Board go past and go a neck up before he asked his horse to catch her. On Moss Vale in the flag-started Greenlands Stakes, he nicked five lengths before the others had even begun.

“The great thing about riding for Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore team is that they leave a lot of it up to you,” says the jockey. “Of course Aidan gives you instructions, you talk through a race, but he knows that things change when you leave the stalls. Something might happen that you hadn’t considered. Aidan understands that and that gives me the confidence to adapt the tactics during a race if I need to.”

But it isn’t the good rides that Fallon remembers most. It isn’t Ad Valorem in the Queen Anne or Holy Roman Emperor in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. They aren’t the ones that prey on his mind.

“The thing that gets me most,” he says thoughtfully, “if I make a mistake, or if I do something in a race and it doesn’t work out, is that these guys have worked hard all year. They have spent so much time and effort getting the horse to the track fit and well only for me to mess it up in a minute. That’s the part that gets me. Regardless of all the wins, what they call good rides or whatever, you know, one bad ride would upset me for a long time.”

He talks about his ride on Hurricane Run in the Arc de Triomphe. That was over a week ago now, and you can tell that it is still eating him up. He had decided that he was going to make the running. All week he was going to make the running. As he was loaded into the stalls he was going to make the running. Then he wasn’t.

“I never change my mind,” he says, beating himself up some more. “I never listen to anyone. I don’t care what anyone else is doing, but just this once, I listened. Some of the other jockeys in the stalls were saying that Dominic Boeuf was going to make it on Irish Wells, and I thought that I didn’t want to get into a dual up there with a horse who had no chance, so I changed my mind. That was a mistake, and it may have cost us an Arc. You try to forget about it. You don’t want to dwell on those things, but it’s hard. You try to learn from it and move on.”


It is the winter of 1983. Kieren Fallon is nearly 18. He plays table tennis, he is a good boxer and he loves hurling. He is fast and skilful, but he is really too light to be a hurler. Five stone nothing fully dressed.

He is good at woodwork and he enjoys cooking. If he was a little better at school, he would probably be studying to be a chef, but it is not enough to be a good cook in order to get into chef school, you have to be good at other subjects as well. Kieren is only good at woodwork. He failed every subject in his Inter Cert except woodwork. He got an A in woodwork.

Above all else, however, he loves horses. He loves watching them and he loves riding them. His family has no background in racing, but they do have a couple of Connemara ponies, wild ones, not even broken. Kieren loves jumping on one of the ponies and staying on for as long as he can, get as far across the field as possible on his back until he ends up falling off because he just can’t hold on any longer. That’s the sum total of his riding experience to date.

He comes across a book at school, “How to become a jockey”, and he brings it home. The book says that, if you want to be a jockey, all you have to do is write off to a trainer. It even provides a list of trainers and their addresses. Kieren shows the book to his mother and she writes his letter for him. They send it to five trainers, Andrew McNamara, Edward O’Grady, Dermot Weld, Jim Bolger and Kevin Prendergast. Within a couple of days Kevin Prendergast replies. Kieren starts with Prendergast on February 22nd, his 18th birthday. Be 18 and five stone, he thinks. That’s how you become a jockey.

He smiles now as he remembers how it all began.

“It’s funny isn’t it?” he says, looking down at his shiny left boot that swings easily, crossed over on his right leg. “I can’t remember a lot of things, but I’ll never forget that. How to become a jockey. Kevin was the only one to reply. He must have been short-staffed!”

The fact that there were two National Hunt trainers among the chosen five was lost on the youngster. To him, they were just racehorse trainers. Addresses in the book. He didn’t know the difference, didn’t know there was a difference. You wonder aloud what might have become of him if Prendergast hadn’t replied.

“I don’t know,” he says. “We come from Clare, Crusheen, where there is no real racing, and we lived out in the country there as well. You’d never know. I could have ended up on the building sites or something. But I believe that if you have a gift, it will come through some way.”

He reminisces about the five years that he spent at Prendergast’s. They were great times. He shared a flat with Charlie Swan and worked hard, all the while learning about horses and about riding.

“I was just talking about those years with Charlie last night at J.P.’s do,” he smiles. “He was apprenticed to Kevin at the time as well. That was a good time, the best of my life. Charlie and me in our flat in Kildare. We never had a worry in the world. We never worried about the tax man, never worried about the mortgage, never worried about anything. We just really enjoyed life.”

You empathise. Life can’t have been easy since July 3rd this year, when he was charged, along with seven others, with conspiracy to defraud Betfair customers, and his licence to ride in the UK was withheld. Remarkably, Fallon’s legal team has yet to be presented with the full body of evidence against him. It is understood that they will receive the evidence in full by November.

At the time of Fallon’s arrest last September, his solicitor, Christopher Stewart-Moore, revealed that it related to a 10-minute car journey that Fallon had shared with Miles Rodgers, the person who is alleged to be at the centre of the police investigation, and others. During the car journey Fallon neither spoke to Rodgers, nor knew his name.

“Kieren does not know Miles Rodgers,” said Stewart-Moore at the time, “and there has never been a telephone conversation between Kieren and Miles Rodgers, ever.”

Of the reputed 18 races in which police allege that Fallon is implicated, Fallon won six. His legal team claim that Miles Rodgers lost £700,000 laying Fallon’s six winners, and that he suffered a net loss on the 18 races. An application of no case to answer has been mooted on Fallon’s behalf, and it is likely that this should be heard in January or February next year.

Of course Fallon was astonished when his licence to ride in the UK was withheld. It has had a huge impact on his life. He misses riding in the UK. He misses riding in every race every day. It keeps you sharp, he tells you. In Ireland, you might go to Roscommon for two flat races on a Monday, at Listowel you’re riding in the first three races, and that’s you for the day. It’s not enough. And the flat season is short. Come the end of October, you’re finished until the following May really. He wants to be riding. These days, he spends as much time playing golf as he does doing his job. It’s riding horses he wants to get better at, he says, not golf.

“If we don’t convince them that there is no case to answer,” he says pragmatically, “the top and the bottom of it is that I’m gone. These boys can’t hang on any longer. They haven’t said anything to me, but that’s what I think. If we had to wait for a court case in September 2007 or so, that would just be too long. It has to be frustrating for everyone, looking for jockeys, jockeys who don’t know the horses. They’ve got the best horses in the world, and it’s frustrating having to sort out jockeys. We thought it would be all over by now.”

You understand his thinking. Fallon is 41 years old. If he has to wait for a court case next September, a case that could go on for five or six weeks, that would be another season over. Another season during which he wouldn’t be able to ride in the UK. But ask him what he will do when he hangs up his boots, whenever that is, and he is emphatic.

“I’m going to train,” he says candidly. “I’ve just decided over the last couple of weeks. A friend of mine in the UK has asked me, and I have been thinking about it for a little while. I have had got some great experience with Jack and Lynda Ramsden, and with Jimmy Fitzgerald, where I looked after the flat horses in the spring while he was looking after the jumpers. Horses like Trainglot and Sybillin and Sapience were there at the time. I really enjoyed that.”

He looks at his watch, 2.10 p.m., has to weigh out for the second race. He’s looking forward to riding Eagle Mountain in the Beresford Stakes itself later on. The ground is going to be testing, but he should cope with it okay.

He does. Another group race winner. That’s 23.

© The Sunday Times, 14th October 2006