The Times, 16th June 2021
Youth and age on the Royal Ascot stage. Yesterday Cieren Fallon rode his first winner at the meeting an hour after Frankie Dettori had landed his 74th. Dettori is 50, Fallon was not even born when the Italian landed his famous “Magnificent Seven” on this course in September 1996.
The 23-year-old’s father, Kieren, was one of Dettori’s greatest rivals and six times a champion jockey, the last three occasions after he had all but lost his left arm in a horrific accident at this meeting in 2000. Kieren was mystically Irish and at times dangerously mischievous.
Cieren speaks in the solid tones of his Lancashire upbringing and his dad now mentors him “to avoid all those mistakes I made”. There were not any on show as the young Cieren drove Oxted decisively through to take the country’s top sprinters apart in the King’s Stand Stakes, one big Ascot race that his father never won.
What was evident was a sense of déjà vu. Looking at the pumping rhythm and the deep-in-the-horse drive as Oxted was pressed clear of the fading Battaash, it was easy to see a little of the unique rolling way “Old Kieren” used to galvanize a mount beneath him. “Quite a bit of his dad,” quipped Johnny Murtagh on ITV. “Only more stylish.”
You might assume that this was because the boy imbibed the works of the man from the earliest age, but you would be wrong. When his parents split Cieren went back with his mother to Wigan, where his sporting interests were rugby league and judo, with race-riding nowhere on the radar.
It was a surprise to both his parents when, at 17, having never sat on a horse, he announced that he would like to have a shot at the jockey’s role. Kieren duly took him to the Derby-winning rider Adam Kirby’s farm, where junior was in no way fazed by being put on a pony that reared to vertical. After rugby league in Wigan, he was clearly ready for anything.
He was certainly an apt pupil. Most champion jockeys are riding something, usually a horse, from their earliest days — but in Kieren’s case it was a pig. Indeed rare is any champion who turns to their sport only in their late teens. But Cieren has three things going for him besides his father’s unique example: a perfect compact body shape, a contrastingly steady temperament and, crucially, the asset of being under the wing of a trainer as talented and as wise as William Haggas.
This is only Cieren’s fourth season. He was champion apprentice in his second, and yesterday showed a veteran’s wisdom when he kept Oxted off a frantic mid-race pace. One 220-yard furlong was clocked at 10.57sec, which helped to burn out the leaders and allowed the outsider Arecibo to pass Battaash and American hope Extravagant Kid to claim second.
Yesterday was an even greater milestone for him than when he and Oxted combined to win the July Cup at Newmarket last summer and as a training triumph it was the happiest of moments for Roger Teal, his wife, Sue, and their son Harry, whose small yard in Lambourn, Berkshire, is very much a family affair.
A tilt at a huge prize in Riyadh did not work out and Oxted had disappointed in his first two runs back home. It’s one thing to get a champion to a peak, something even better to return him there.
Which of course is what Dettori has done with his own career several times and his Indian summer continued as he and Europe’s champion miler won the opening Queen Anne Stakes as an odds-on favourite should. Palace Pier is such an admirable racehorse, and the race so uneventful, that even the applause for Dettori’s flying dismount had something rather routine about it.
There was nothing routine about Poetic Flare’s 4½-length victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes because no other horse has charted the path of running in the English, French and Irish Guineas on the way, winning the first and being inched out of the third by his own stable companion Mac Swiney. But then nothing has matched the joint careers of the trainer Jim Bolger and his son-in-law, the jockey Kevin Manning.
Bolger has been training since the late 1970s and breeding his own since before he bought Poetic Flare’s great-grandmother in 1988. Manning has been stable jockey since 1993, won this race for Bolger on Poetic Flare’s sire Dawn Approach in 2013 and looked on in legitimate family pride as his wife, Una, received the trainer’s and owner’s trophy on behalf of her absent parents.
Poetic Flare is three years old, Manning, at 54, and Bolger, at 79, have combined ages of 133. Yes, youth and age made this Ascot stage.