1 July 2007

Disgraced jockey tries to redeem his reputation with a big win today on hot favourite Eagle Mountain

Ian Wooldridge’s Memorial Service last week Richie Benaud recalled Keith Miller’s famous dismissal of modern sporting attitudes. “Having a Messerschmitt up your backside,” said Miller, who was a fighter pilot as well as Australia’s greatest all rounder, “now that’s pressure. Sport is just enjoying yourself.” Point taken, but there are grounds for making Kieren Fallon an exception as he pitches for the Irish Derby this afternoon.

For as he canters the Epsom Derby second Eagle Mountain to the start, he carries not only the challenge of handling an even money favourite in Ireland’s richest race of the season, he is in a very real sense riding for his own redemption. He only returned from a six-month drug ban three weeks ago and only has two full months clear before he goes to the Old Bailey on conspiracy charges which if proven, will send him to jail. Pressure? Yes, surely that is pressure?

But the truly extraordinary thing about Kieren is that he does not show it either on or off the course. He had a winner on his first day back and any understandable suggestions of race rustiness were dispelled last Sunday with a real masterclass of a ride to take the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud on Mountain High. This was vintage Fallon: seizing the initiative in a slowly-run race and then using his uniquely wrap-round body drive to get his partner home. Up till then Mountain High had always failed in the highest class. With his breeding, by top sire Danehill out of one of the finest Weinstock mares, this victory in a Group One event will increase his stud value by seven figures.

That’s why his supporters are so wedded to Kieren. The jockey may be forbidden to ride in England while the court case is pending but this has not deterred Mountain High (and The Queen’s) trainer Michael Stoute from employing him abroad and Eagle Mountain’s handler Aidan O’Brien has been passionate in his support of his stable jockey. The six-month suspension has seen Fallon become even more of a daily fixture at Ballydoyle and the fact that he is on Eagle Mountain out of a four-strong O’Brien Irish Derby challenge has only contracted the starting price of the Epsom runner-up.

For while Eagle Mountain may be an admirable colt, he is anything but an unknown quantity. Last May he was Aidan O’Brien’s first two-year-old winner of the season and he ran four more times after that. This year he has run in both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby and while the case for him is that he was running on at the finish in both, it may be that he just lacks something in the highest class. At his odds you have to be convinced that you are just buying money. I will believe it when I see it.

Far better to take the 10-1 that was available yesterday for Royal And Regal, sent over from Chantilly by Andre Fabre who has not made himself into France’s greatest ever trainer by confusing geese and swans. Royal And Regal has to improve markedly to win this afternoon but he has only run four times, winning twice and finishing second twice. What’s more, being by Sadler’s Wells he is likely to appreciate both the trip and the soft going more than Eagle Mountain who is by the miler Rock of Gibraltar.

As a final twist Royal And Regal’s jockey, Johnny Murtagh, was the man who rode Eagle Mountain at Epsom. In his time Murtagh has been to his own hell and back and, like Fallon, has ridden two Irish Derby winners along the way. He also doesn’t “do” pressure either. Ian Wooldridge would be proud of him.

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