Kieren Fallon may baulk at the suggestion that he has become one of Flat racing’s elder statesmen, but he speaks like a liberated man buoyed by one of the more unexpected Classics wins of his roller-coaster career.
His horsemanship on the wayward Night Of Thunder in the finish to the 2000 Guineas has led to the 49-year-old forging a slightly unlikely alliance with Godolphin.
This will see him partner the highly-rated True Story, a leading Epsom Derby contender, in tomorrow’s Betfred Dante Stakes – the centrepiece of York’s three-day May meeting.
“If you’ve got the horses to ride, and you keep it simple, there is no reason why older jockeys shouldn’t compete,” Fallon told The Yorkshire Post.
“Horse riding is not like football or rugby where you’re putting your body on the line. Once the horse is running for you, it’s not too hard.”
In some respects, Fallon does still have age and time on his side – one of the all-time great York races came in 1992 when Lester Piggott, then 56, produced a totally nerveless ride to land The International on Rodrigo De Triano and defeat the Derby hero Dr Devious.
Piggott’s remarkable renaissance, after retirement and a spell in prison, was assisted by the support of trainers like his great friend Vincent O’Brien and the loyalty shown by owners such as Robert Sangster.
It is similar with Fallon. After riding just 62 winners last year, less than a third of the 200 that he accrued a decade ago when recording the fifth double century of his career, he toyed with retirement before Saeed bin Suroor asked him to spend the winter riding Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin horses in Dubai.
This is an unlikely combination – Fallon rode in opposition to Godolphin, and its former talisman Frankie Dettori, for the best part of two decades. There is also the irony of Godolphin looking to restore its reputation after last year’s doping scandal by turning to a rider who has never been far away from controversy.
Yet it is clearly a redemptive relationship after Night Of Thunder, owned by an associate of Sheikh Mohammed, landed the Guineas in spite of swerving across the Newmarket track in the closing stages.
Fallon admits he was the beneficiary of Richard Hughes opting to ride Toormore, but says that he is “a new man” because of the confidence that he derives from his association with bin Suroor.
“When you have a job, there’s not a lot of pressure,” he explains. “All the top horses and trainers have their own trainers and apprentices. Unless you have a job, you’re going to struggle.
“I had 60-odd winners last year, but that’s not for me. It’s the quality of horses, the big races, and Godolphin is right up there.
“Mr bin Suroor, he’s probably one of the most dedicated trainers I have ridden for. He’s so on the ball. He must have a clock in his head – he just knows how fast we are going riding work.
“He’s got great people around him and that’s what you need.
“You can’t do everything yourself. It’s a team sport and good to be in a team. I’ve always been at my happiest, and probably my best, when I’ve had a good yard behind me – Jimmy Fitzgerald in Malton when I started out from Ireland, Sir Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute, Mr bin Suroor. I like to work with people, have an input and be wanted.”
Fallon, six times the champion jockey, admits to knowing very little about David Simcock’s Madame Chiang which takes on Prince Khalid Abdullah’s highly-rated Cambridge in today’s Tattersalls Musidora Stakes, a trial for the Epsom Oaks.
“She’s run just the once, winning at Yarmouth last year at a big price which suggests she leaves her best for the racecourse,” he said. “It’s been a lucky race, I’ve won it with Reams Of Verse and Islington.”
He is hoping this will be the warm-up for tomorrow’s Dante – and that the ground dries out sufficiently for bin Suroor’s True Story to show his class.
Ten years after completing the Dante and Derby double on the Stoute-trained North Light, Fallon’s enthusiasm is still infectious.
A three-time Derby winner, he says this could be one of the best horses of his career. “He’s a beautiful, good-actioned horse that needs decent ground,” added the jockey.
“The boys from Godolphin will know what they’re doing. They’ll walk the track and decide, but the Dante is a great prep, the best prep of all for the Derby.
“North Light was very, very impressive in 2004 at York, that gave me confidence for Epsom, and I hope True Story runs.
“They said it was a very good 2000 Guineas this year, but the Derby could be extra special with Aidan O’Brien’s Australia, the John Gosden horse Western Hymn and this one.
“I’d like to think I haven’t won my last Derby. These are the races I’m focused on now, quality not quantity.
“With good horses to look forward to, it makes it much easier to handle the midweek stuff. I haven’t felt this good for ages.”