To some he is a mercurial character, controversial, but with a heart of gold. Others may not be quite so kind about the former six-time champion jockey Kieren Fallon.
But with a CV that includes drugs, an uneasy relationship with alcohol, false allegations of race fixing, a weighing room bust-up and battles with depression, there is one thing Fallon definitely isn’t and that’s boring.
It’s a fine line that separates genius from insanity and Fallon would be the first to admit he has walked that tightrope many times during his brilliant but controversial career. More often than not been he has been his own worst enemy, and in his cleverly titled autobiography, Form, he lifts the veil, just a tad, on his roller coaster racing life.
Racing’s bad boy, Fallon was to his sport what Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins was to snooker, a genius at his craft but with a talent for attracting trouble.
The boy from County Clare first came to the UK to ride in 1988 and it took just six years for him to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons after he pulled fellow jockey Stuart Webster off a horse at Beverley and finished off the altercation in the weighing room with a head butt.
It was to be the first of a series of run-ins with racing’s ruling body that in a way have defined his career, which is unfortunate as there is no doubting Fallon’s talent in the saddle.
Great jockeys, like fighters are born not made and Fallon put his success down to the natural affinity he has with horses.
“I find people hard. It’s the way I was made, I suppose, the environment I grew up in, the way I’m wired,” he said. “It’s enough to say that I like horses because they have never caused me pain. What I mean is a horse has never let me down.”
Riding for Jack and Lynda Ramsden, then based in Yorkshire, but who now live in Kirtling, Fallon found himself at the centre of a libel trial at the High Court after all three had been accused of stopping a horse called Top Cees. It was against the now defunct Sporting Life over a column it published alleging trainer and jockey had cheated based on a conversation which took place at The Old Plough in Ashley between Fallon and racing broadcaster Derek Thompson. In court Thompson, who Fallon said was a reluctant witness, said he had not wanted the repeat the conversation in court. “It was told to me in confidence,” he told the hearing. “I asked him (Fallon) what happened because I thought the horse would win. He said I thought it would win as well but when I got in the paddock Jack told me to stop it.”
In court Fallon said he had never been told to pull a horse by the Ramsdens, who with Fallon won the case, securing a total of £195,000 in damages.
Soon afterwards Fallon arrived in Newmarket as first jockey to Henry Cecil at Warren Place and in 1977 landed his first Classic for his new guv’nor. He was back in the spotlight for the right reasons, but the honeymoon period was to prove shortlived as the ‘Fairytale of Newmarket’ in which he became embroiled quickly turned into a nightmare as he was accused of having an affair with Cecil’s then wife Natalie.
Although the accusation proved to be unfounded he lost his job.
A year later he was riding for Sir Michael Stoute but at the start of the 2004 Flat season, before he rode his second Derby winner, North Light, allegations that he was involved in race-fixing surfaced and in September of that year he was arrested.
The case against him subsequently collapsed when the judge directed a jury to find Fallon and all his co-defendants not guilty because of lack of evidence.
Riding for trainer Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore racing organisation Fallon enjoyed some of his greatest moments but he still retained the ability to frustrate even the most loyal of employers. While his Irish bosses stood by him when he was charged with conspiracy to defraud, even they lost patience when he served a six-month riding ban imposed by the French racing authorities, after testing positive for drugs.
Fallon looks haunted in the striking portrait which dominates the cover of his book, and when he talks in it of his battle with the bottle...’relaxation came in the shape of a bottle of vodka’ and the depression which made him ‘kind of suicidal’ and saw him spend six weeks in a psychiatric hospital in Dublin, it appears he still has a way to go before he is truly at peace with himself.
After finally announcing his retirement from race riding last year he is now back in Newmarket and riding out for Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
“I will always ride horses wherever I go and whatever I do,” he said. “While I have the ability to ride I will ride. I feel normal on a horse. I don’t feel normal anywhere else, but I do when I am on a horse.”
Form, by Kieren Fallon, is published by Simon & Schuster. Price, £20.