Kieren Fallon retires: A flawed genius who was a modern-day great

Kieren Fallon on board Golan
Kieren Fallon has ridden over 2,400 winners - including piloting Golan to the 2,000 Guineas in 2001 and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2002

Drugs, alcohol, false allegations of race-fixing, bust-ups with rivals and battles with depression... Kieren Fallon is one of horse racing's most controversial and colourful figures.

He is also a jockey who enjoyed stunning success, which is why he will go down in racing folklore.

What made Fallon so good?

Dubbed 'King Kieren' by punters and 'The Assassin' by his opponents as he cut them down time and again, Fallon was in his prime from the late 1990s until about 10 years ago.

Famously whistling as he prepared to pounce, Fallon always seemed to be in the right place at the right time during his races.

It made no difference whether it was a low-grade prize at, say, Pontefract, where I think the crowds roared him home the loudest, or amidst the genteel splendour of Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a race he took twice.

He was able to conjure up a strength that transmitted to his mounts, and to which they wanted to respond generously. And it all came with a timing which made you think his nerves were made of steel and ice ran through his veins.

He had a coolness that stood him in good stead when dealing with the pressure, not only of riding at flat racing's highest level, but also of dealing with the more controversial side of his 32-year career, often at the same time.

Never perhaps was that better exemplified than when he demonstrated all of his brilliance to win the 2007 'Arc' on Dylan Thomas the day before he was in the dock on race-fixing charges that were subsequently dismissed.

Kieren Fallon and Night of Thunder
Fallon won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket five times - 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2014, when he won on Night of Thunder (pictured here)

What were his biggest successes?

More than 2,700 wins included victory in 16 British Classic races, three in the Epsom Derby. One was on the 1999 winner Oath - trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil, by whom he was later angrily sacked - and the others on the Sir Michael Stoute-trained pair Kris Kin in 2003 and North Light a year later.

During periods as number one jockey to Cecil, Stoute and with Irish champion trainer Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore team, Fallon was associated with a string of top-notch horses, names like Bosra Sham, Fantastic Light, Russian Rhythm, Falbrav, Hurricane Run, George Washington, Yeats and the aforementioned Dylan Thomas.

But to me there's one that stands out: the filly Ouija Board.

Trained by Ed Dunlop, she and Fallon enjoyed a glittering season in 2004, gaining an ever-growing army of admirers when taking first the Oaks at Epsom, then the equivalent race in Ireland and later the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf race, staged in Texas that year.

Ouija Board demonstrated her brilliance in the Oaks positively blitzing the opposition in memorable style with Fallon's invaluable assistance.

Why was he controversial?

One of the first times that Fallon's name galloped across my radar was in September 1994 when I, like thousands more on the racetrack at Beverley and in high street betting shops up and down the country, watched open-mouthed as jockey Stuart Webster was hauled from his mount after winning a race.

The perpetrator was rival jockey Fallon, furious at an incident that took place during the race. Fallon was banned for six months, a suspension considered substantial at the time, for what was deemed "violent and improper conduct". It was also the best-publicised of a long list of clashes with racing's authorities over the years.

Things went up several notches a decade later, however, when Fallon was arrested by police investigating race-fixing allegations and ordered to stand trial at the Old Bailey on charges of conspiracy to defraud.

Ultimately, the case collapsed, with the judge declaring there was "no case to answer", but hardly had he left the court than a failed drugs test, his second, was made public and an 18-month ban ensued.

Kieren Fallon found 'not guilty' in attempts to defraud a betting company
Fallon's career has not been without controversy

Was he unfairly treated?

Fallon was awarded £70,000 damages after winning a libel action in 1998, along with trainer Lynda Ramsden and her husband Jack, over allegations about the running and riding of their horse, Top Cees.

He felt the authorities were "out to get him" and there's no doubt that controversy did stalk Fallon throughout much of his career.

At least some of the shadier aspects of his reputation were self-made - the Beverley incident, the drugs bans, the regular brushes with the powers-that-be.

Some of that probably served to fan the flames when police became involved, but that race-fixing case ended as a massive embarrassment, taking years of investigation, costing millions of pounds and achieving practically nothing.

Kieren Fallon rides Sir Maximilian to victory at Chester in May
Kieren Fallon rode his last winner, Sir Maximilian, at Chester in May 2016

How will be remembered?

A flawed genius.

At the height of his powers, he was as good as any of flat racing's modern-day greats in the saddle. As wily as Lester Piggott or Pat Eddery, as cool as Steve Cauthen or Johnny Murtagh, as inspired as Frankie Dettori or Ryan Moore.

However, there is the other side to Fallon, too, where, if you like, he just couldn't help himself, hence all the dramas and all the negative headlines over 20-plus years.

No jockey has been at the centre of such a constant stream of mutterings about himself and his reputation, but there were legions of fans as well.

They were won over by the riding skills, his rise from obscurity, the fact that he 'won' his Old Bailey trial when it collapsed, and by his charm.

It didn't happen every day of the week, but when that smile spread over those features, as craggy as some of the cliffs near where he was born and bred in the west of Ireland, people were magnetised.

At 51, the years have been gradually catching up with him and the Fallon of the glory years has been missing for a bit now, despite insistence to the contrary from the man himself this season, during which he's been based in Ireland after a spell in the United States.

The news that he is suffering from severe depression is a desperately sad way for things to end. But the racing world which either loved him or was infuriated by him - or in many cases both - will certainly never forget him.

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