8 June 2003
Newmarket trainer lands his first Blue Riband in 17 years with a colt re-entered to run at a cost of £90,000
Deep inside a good racehorse there is a wellspring of adrenalin that, when tapped, can put wings on his heels. Deep inside a great jockey there is a thirst for winning that can suck juice up from the deep. Kris Kin and Kieren Fallon and the 2003 Derby was a spring found and a thirst slaked.
“He just doesn’t seem to stretch out at home,” Fallon said as he sat watching a final re-run in the weighing room long after official proceedings were over. “He never showed much last year, he worked terrible before Chester, which is why I rode something else in the Dee Stakes. Even a week ago he could not go past a moderate handicapper at home. He doesn’t seem to stretch. But jeez he stretched today.”
Fallon may only be 5ft 4in and 8st 7lb, but he has a physical presence. When he takes his shirt off, he has a torso of which any bantamweight would be proud, and when he talks of races there is something very physical in the hushed tones as he takes you through. “He’s a free sweater,” he said of the chesnut colt with whom he had just touched racing immortality, “but while he was wet down at the start he was very calm. That was good because I wanted him early. I knew I had to attack. The one thing you must not do is to get behind and get shuttled back. All those great races that Greville Starkey rode and all they remember is him losing the Derby on Dancing Brave.”
After this spring’s renunciation of the demon grape there was only a cup of tea in the Fallon hand, but there was almost intoxication in the description as we watched the early part of the replay unfold. “It gets tight as you get up to the top of the hill,” Fallon said, “look there’s Refuse To Bend outside me. I had to hold it there. If I got shuttled back it would be over.”
Beside him sit jockeys Jimmy Fortune and Richard Quinn, Derby Day champagne in hand. “Look at him,” Quinn said of his ride Norse Dancer, “plum last and not going. How could we have finished fourth?” The question marks are rougher for Fallon. The Great Gatsby and Dutch Gold are duelling up front, Balestrini pursues them on the outside, Brian Boru, the Ballydoyle favourite, follows them along the inside. Kris Kin is right behind him but the whole field tightens towards the rail as the course swings left.
“Look how tight. Look how tight,” says Fallon, that voice almost a whisper, but the utter need to keep position brutal and ruthless in its tone. The field swept on down through Tattenham Corner. Pat Eddery, 51 years young, 31 years into Derby rides, stokes The Great Gatsby to live up to his middle name, Dutch Gold weakens, Balestrini comes outside him and the leading two launch off towards the huge white ocean liner of a grandstand with a whole Derby field in pursuit.
The screen recalls the sunshine moment. The leaders escape, the eye casting vainly for anything coasting behind. Not Brian Boru who had been hopelessly a-lather beforehand and was now struggling on the Epsom camber. Maybe not Alamshar who was closing but had a lot of running to do. And surely not Kris Kin whose rider had seemed to be pushing for a while and was only just forcing a passage between Refuse To Bend and Brian Boru.
“Oh no, I was all right,” says Fallon, so cool with the tea cup, so ferocious in the saddle. “They had gone for home very early. It is a long, long way to the line. I felt he had something there and I did not want to use it too early. I could have kept up the inner but you can get tightened up against the rail, so I aimed out to get my run.”
Successful race riding is a combination of these millisecond decisions. Because of Fallon’s obvious physical powers of galvanization and his reticence and occasional cussedness out of the saddle, people do not realise how acute he is at decision making. Saeed Suhail’s people didn’t when they temporarily sacked him two years ago. But the world did when he angled Kris Kin out yesterday.
But there was still much to do. The pink-silked Eddery was pumping The Great Gatsby dementedly towards the line. Beside him Balestrini was weakening but Kris Kin and Alamshar had three lengths of space to devour. For Fallon, it was Alamshar’s presence that was the key.
“You know my horse was still not giving me everything,” he said. “But he felt that other horse outside him and I could feel a whoosh underneath me. Then I knew I could catch the leader, but I did not want to go too soon.”
Here you are into the very heart of a champion. The ability to hold the nerve when the dagger is drawn. To the casual eye Fallon had been scrubbing Kris Kin from Tattenham Corner. To the man himself, only now was the hour. With 200 yards of this Derby to run, he got hold of Kris Kin and, with body and mind, dug deep into where that wellspring of adrenalin should be.
The hallmark of great champions is that their method imprints itself on the mind. Fallon’s method is different from the copybook jockey. He throws the reins loose and uses his whole physique to stretch the rhythm of the horse beneath. The whip comes up. Three times it came up and cracked hard and imperiously yesterday. But the body shifts and pushes with the stride. Beneath him Kris Kin’s chesnut forelegs lifted and reached forward like they never had before.
When trainer Sir Michael Stoute said afterwards that “we had just seen one of the greatest of Derby rides from Kieren Fallon”, he was speaking nothing but the truth.