Monday, July 11, 2016
Kieren Fallon was a great jockey, one of the best there has been. I also always found him to be a good person.
We first met 26 years ago in India when I was a young lad on a trip. We hit it off straightaway. That was four years before I moved from Ireland to Britain. Even then Kieren was adamant I had to go. It was honest, well-intentioned advice. He told me I would be mad to stay in Ireland. Eventually I decided to take the plunge. I'm glad I did.
That decision was influenced by having stayed with Kieren for a week while he was based in Yorkshire. During a week's suspension I flew over and accompanied Kieren at the races, riding out for Mark Johnston and on a visit to Jimmy FitzGerald. My host could not have been more accommodating. It was obvious he genuinely wanted me to do well.
After I did switch to England I started to sit with Kieren in the weighing room in a section that also included Jimmy Fortune and Martin Dwyer. As you can imagine, we had some great craic. What you quickly realised about Kieren was he was more or less the same every day.
One of the aspects of his character that never changed was his enthusiasm for something new. One day he would walk into the weighing room and say: "Lads, these new stirrups are the best you can get." The next week it might be: "Lads, these new vitamin tablets are the best you can get." He could easily convince himself the new thing was the best thing ever. The rest of us would chuckle and agree with him.
Sometimes our little set moved from Britain to India, a place where Kieren was not necessarily at home with the food. A huge fan of spicy dishes he was not. There was one particular restaurant we frequented regularly. Kieren always used to order a plate of mashed potatoes and onions. On one occasion Jimmy went for a pee and by the time he got back to the table Kieren's food had just been served. Just as Kieren started to eat Jimmy let him know - and he was telling the truth - that he had looked through the pane of glass in the door to the kitchen and seen the chefs mashing his potatoes by hand. From that moment Kieren avoided spicy dishes and mashed potatoes.
Kieren was quite superstitious on a racecourse and would do things like making sure he wasn't first into the paddock. That superstitious trait is probably an old Irish thing and I'd say a most of us are a bit like that. However, when it came to the race itself, Kieren didn't have to rely on superstition, just his amazing talent.
The most important reason he was such a brilliant jockey is he loves horses. I remember watching him in the mornings in Mumbai. It was obvious how much he enjoyed riding out. Over there the jockeys generally hop off one and hop on one quite regularly but Kieren would enjoy sitting on them for a bit longer than everyone else. He then knew the best way to ride his mounts because he had taken so much time, on and off their backs, getting to know them.
As well as absolutely adoring horses he also always spoke highly of them. He would never speak rudely or offensively about a horse. If one had run badly Kieren's attitude was there must be something wrong. I guarantee any trainer he rode for would agree that he never condemned an animal. That's a big reason why he had such a great rapport with them.
Riding in a race he was ruthless but fair. People knew you never went up Kieren Fallon's inner. However, it was also well known that if you were being run away with on a horse you couldn't hold Kieren would always move out of your way in an attempt to get you out of trouble. In that sense he certainly wasn't a pig-headed, dirty rider.
He was a jockey I hated to be upsides at the two pole. If you saw him in front of you, pushing away on a horse in that familiar style of his, there was always a good chance he was actually going much better than it seemed. He would have a loop in his rein, he would be leaning down and his elbows would be moving but the visual impression was deceptive. Whereas I would be sitting pretty with a double handful, looking like I was travelling more strongly than I really was, Kieren would be exactly the opposite.
When he was rowing away and shoving a horse he was often actually cantering. He would suck you into a false sense of security. By doing that he encouraged you to take him on prematurely. As a rival rider you knew if you left him alone in front he would be getting a soft lead. If you took him on he would often allow you to go half a length up on him but would then come back and beat you. He did that to me many more times than I can remember. He outfoxed me on numerous occasions. Kieren was a genius in the saddle.
I was delighted when he won the 2,000 Guineas on Night Of Thunder, even though I was on the stablemate Toormore and had picked the wrong colt. I wanted Kieren to do well. I remember telling him before the race I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if he won. Subsequently, when I got back on Night Of Thunder Kieren then wanted me to do well. As the horse had done him such a good turn by winning the Guineas he was keen to see his career to continue on a high. Not for a second did he have in his mind that if he ran badly under me he might get back on him.
His fellow jockeys always used to think of Kieren as like a cat with nine lives. Yet one of the many amazing things about him is he constantly bounced back. After some of the things that happened to Kieren a normal person would have been inclined to go away and hide. Kieren's way of doing things was to face the music and then get on with his job. Much of the criticism that came his way was like water off a duck's back. I admired him for that.
I also admired him for his astonishing coolness. How he won the Arc on Dylan Thomas, with all the stuff that was going on in the background, was just incredible. He knew he was facing a lengthy drugs ban, and that the news was about to be made public, but he somehow put it out of his mind and concentrated on the race. None of us knew what was about to happen. It was a miracle how he managed to focused. He did, though, and beat Youmzain, who I was riding, by a head.
Seeing the decline in Kieren's career was another factor in me wanting to retire when I did. I was lucky. I knew after riding I wanted to start training. Kieren was different. He never used to think further forward than the following day. I wouldn't be surprised if he thought he could go on forever.
You couldn't say he was the most stylish rider there has been and no one would claim he was the ultimate role model for youngsters but it would be impossible to deny he was a very great jockey. We all make mistakes. Kieren knows he has made a few himself. He wouldn't try to deny it. Moreover, if he ever did anything wrong to you, or you felt he had let you down, you would still forgive me.
The main reason for that is people like him. Kieren will be fine.
Everyone knows how much I loved Glorious Goodwood as a jockey. All being well, I'll have my first runner at the meeting in its very first contest with Nigel, who won his second race for us at Brighton this week.
I was fortunate Philippa Cooper sent him to me. When you get a horse off John Gosden you don't think you can improve him and I've been lucky as the longer I've had him the more pace he has shown me.
Dropping back in trip has helped him but so, too, has being gelded. It has been the making of the horse.
I rode him one morning and in his slow canters he was continually bucking. Normally I love to see a horse doing that, as it's evidence of their wellbeing, but when they buck while cantering up a hill it's not such a good sign.
One reason you geld a horse is if they are becoming too coltish. That wasn't the case with Nigel. I felt he was bucking because something was irritating him. I came to the conclusion he was in discomfort because his genitals were getting in the way. Some horses are too well endowed. What they have gets in the way when they're cantering and galloping. This lad's bits weren't excessively big but it still looked to me as though they were annoying him so we took them off. More so than humans, horses hate pain. They fall apart when they're hurting. Nigel is hurting no longer.
After his first win for us over 1m2f I hadn't planned to take him back up to 1m4f. I had wanted to keep him over 1m2f in a race at Epsom last week but it rained and the conditions became too soft for him. I knew we were guaranteed top of the ground at Brighton, so I took a chance and ran him over 1m4f.
The race I have in mind for him now is back over 1m2f. It's the opening event at Glorious Goodwood, a £50,000 handicap. He will run off or close to bottom weight. Tactically he has loads of pace, he stays well - which you need to do at Goodwood - and, so long as the ground is quick, the track will suit him.
Nigel has been running well in lesser company and his confidence is high. I feel this lad is now well prepared for a punch on the chin. It's time for him to go up in grade at a fixture that holds any number of happy memories for me.