27 February 2005

Kieren Fallon is in danger of making Lester Piggott look uncontroversial. Sure Mr Piggott had his trainer-switching moments and his fabled meanness saw him serve a prison sentence after an unequal battle with the Inland Revenue. But compared to Fallon’s last 12 months Lester was just an allotment digger.

For the route of the Fallon rollercoaster ,which on Friday ended with him signing for John Magnier and friends to ride for Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stable, has been enough to take a stuntman’s breath away. It has run from the throwaway ride on Ballinger Ridge at Lingfield last March, to the tabloid sting involving drink, whores and disputed tips, to private life problems and most of all to the corruption allegations that see him currently on bail facing charges of conspiracy to defraud as part of a huge City of London police probe.

There were times during the spring and autumn last year when, not surprisingly 40-year-old Fallon looked and admitted himself a ragged version of his true self in the saddle. But his strength of character as well as of body saw him end the year with 200 winners and almost £5-million in earnings. On a horse he has something of the genius about him, moving his body through his mount’s muscles with more physical and intuitive power than any jockey I have ever seen. When Jamie Spencer resigned from Ballydoyle after one unhappy year, it was no surprise that Magnier and company should seek out Fallon.

The big surprise, however big the money, was that Fallon should accept the offer. For all through the bad times, the one rock on which Fallon could lean was that of his principal employer, and provider of the winners of the last two Derbies, Sir Michael Stoute. To him Fallon has frequently paid tribute. All winter he has been saying how much he was looking forward to riding the Stoute horses, to battling with Frankie Dettori to get his champion’s title back. Only a week ago he flew home after riding in America saying he wanted to “freshen up” for just those reasons.

But while Fallon can be utterly charming off a horse he also has a well- documented turbulent side. Maybe a new start in Ireland can soothe some of his demons but he would not be the first star to need the demons to drive him on. Magnier is gambling both on Fallon settling to this new and calmer environment and on the much trumpeted police investigations coming up short. It is not a certain throw.

Neither is Sir Michael Stoute’s choice of successor to Fallon. At Kempton yesterday opinion was divided between former producer of champion jockeys David Nicholson — “It will be Jamie Spencer. He has the talent and Michael is the man to harness it,” — and Stoute’s former jockey Walter Swinburn “my thought is Ryan Moore. He is young [21] but I think he is really good.”

My money is in the Swinburn camp. Walter was only 19 when Stoute legged him up on Shergar to win the Derby and the pair’s years together included a dazzling string of great races. Walter turned trainer last year, using Ryan Moore on several occasions. He remembers Stoute’s keenness when he asked him about Moore as a jockey. “When I told how good Ryan was at feedback, he got out his race card and wrote it down.”

Ryan Moore has been going only four seasons and has ridden a mere 199 winners. But 132 of them were last year alone. He is a young man of high intelligence whose headmaster made him captain of the school football team because of his “leadership and integrity.” He is the jockey to watch.

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