Bygones: Roller-coaster career of controversial jockey Kieren Fallon

THERE were times when Kieren Fallon courted as many controversies as big-race winners during a roller-coaster riding career chronicled on both the front and back pages of the national newspapers.

Epsom vicotry: Kieren Fallon and Oath after their Derby triumph.
Epsom vicotry: Kieren Fallon and Oath after their Derby triumph.

Only Fallon could win the 2007 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, parade proudly up the Longchamp straight on the winner’s horse-drawn carriage and find himself on trial at the Old Bailey 24 hours later on race-fixing charges – the case collapsed.

Yet the making of the six-time champion jockey, one of the most accomplished horsemen of his generation, came exactly 30 years ago when he moved from his native Ireland to Ryedale.

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The grizzled veteran, who was forced to retire last summer as physical and mental injuries, as well as self-inflicted scars, took their toll, could not be further removed from the cherubic rider with choirboy looks.

Jimmy Fitzgerald.

Apprentice to Kevin Prendergast in Ireland, Fallon was struggling to establish himself before racing commentator Des Scahill recommended a move to Malton-based Jimmy Fitzgerald, who was pre-eminent under both codes – his Forgive ‘N’ Forget had won the 1985 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

“It was probably the top yard in the North then,” Fallon, 52, observes in his newly published memoir Form: My Autobiography, which reveals his life-changing decision in the autumn of 1987. “I went home to tell my mother and father that I was going to live in England and I was in Malton a couple of days later.”

Typically, Fallon nearly did not make it for the start of the following season – he spent the winter work riding in Australia and was nearly swept to his death off the coast as his boogie board strayed into dangerous waters.

While the combative rider would enjoy multiple Classic and big-race success with Sir Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien, three of Flat racing’s greatest trainers, his respect for Tipperary-born Fitzgerald was heartfelt.

Jockey Kieren Fallon. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

This is self-evident in a brutally candid book that lifts the lid on the extent to which Fallon grafted his way to the top when not embroiled in controversy and scandal. If only he had more confidantes in more recent years like his revered Yorkshire trainer, who died in 2004 at the age of 69.

However, as the County Clare-born rider discloses, the relationship with Fitzgerald had an inauspicious start. “Who are you?” demanded the new trainer on the gallops after noting, correctly, that his new recruit had spent too much time partying Down Under and now topped 9st 6lb.

“After I told him who I was, he looked me up and down. ‘It’s not a f****** jump jockey I want’ he said. ‘It’s a Flat jockey. I don’t want a conditional. I’ve got enough of them. It’s a Flat jockey I want. What weight are you?’,” recalls the subsequent three-time Epsom Derby-winning jockey.

“I told him I was 8st 12lb, but I said I was on a diet. I was stuttering away. He muttered something else and moved on to the next lad. Inside the gates of Norton Grange (stables), Jimmy was a nightmare.

Jimmy Fitzgerald.

“You couldn’t please him. Everything you did was wrong. Mark Dwyer was a brilliant jumps rider for him and there was a day when he rode three winners at Wetherby and his last ride fell. As he was walking to the ring the next day, Jimmy saw him. ‘What the f*** happened with that thing in the last?’ he said. There was no thought of congratulating Mark on his treble. ‘My mother would have stayed on that’, Jimmy said. That was what he was like.”

Fallon’s first winner for Fitzgerald came courtesy of Evichstar at Thirsk in April 1988 – the trainer landed a significant investment – but it pained the rider when he was jocked off 1989 Ebor winner Sapience when the great Pat Eddery became available at the 11th hour.

Self-doubt was in danger of scuppering a career before it had even begun, Fallon’s confidence-booster coming at Carlisle when he rode, and won, a race on a tearaway horse that every senior jockey was avoiding at all cost.

“I loved my time with Jimmy Fitzgerald,” Fallon reveals. “We had our ups and downs and we had some fine rows, but he was a father figure to me, someone who was always there when I needed him. When he died, I felt racing would never be the same again. Everybody looked up to him, not just around Malton, but all around England’s racing scene. Everybody wanted to talk to him, partly because he had a wicked sense of humour and he made everyone laugh.

Jockey Kieren Fallon. Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

“He still watched out for every race I rode in. Without him, I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I did in the game. When I went off the rails, he was always there for support. It was hard work at his yard. There were no airs or graces. After we’d been riding, we’d go back to the yard for evening duties.

“He’d get me to school for him, too. He had this great chaser called McClure, but in his first couple of runs in schooling, he would always fall. So Jimmy always put me on him to jump the four fences on the gallops.

“His theory was that I was light and that the horse wouldn’t fall because he had a light weight on his back. Jimmy was using me as a guinea pig.

“I got very close to him. I went racing with him all the time. That didn’t stop him making sure he got a good deal out of me when he got the chance. I bought his wife’s car once. The book value was £3,100. I offered £2,800 and I ended up paying £3,500. He could sell sand to the Arabs. He was very important to my career. I started doing well and riding winners in England and it’s easy to get carried away with yourself.

“When you do, it is usually a disaster. Jimmy didn’t let you get carried away. That’s why he treated Mark Dwyer the way he did when he rode that treble.”

When Fitzgerald’s fortunes dipped in the early 1990s, Fallon struck up an alliance with former stockbroker and renowned gambler Jack Ramsden and his wife Linda, who trained at Sandhutton near Thirsk.

It took his career to another level – both on and off the racecourse. For, when Top Cees won the 1995 Chester Cup after being beaten in a £10,000 handicap Newmarket, it led to a landmark libel case against The Sporting Life that the Ramsdens, and Fallon, won after reputing insinuations that they were protecting the horse’s handicap mark for a big gamble. “I wasn’t in the court for the verdict,” says Fallon with characteristic swagger. “I was told of the decision at Lingfield just before I rode Master Caster, an even-money favourite. We came home first. I was on two winners in the space of 15 minutes that day.”

It was the prelude to an Old Bailey trial when Kieren Fallon was cleared, with others, of stopping horses, ironically at a time when he was winning 200 races a year. The ultimate horseman, such scandals became the story of his life.

Form: My Autobiography by Kieren Fallon, published by Simon & Schuster, price £20.