KIEREN Fallon insists that he has pressed that self-destruct button for the final time. The six-time champion jockey has been in more scrapes than Justin Bieber, but he is now at peace with the world and reckons it is pay-back time.
The lifeline that Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation threw the 49-year-old last winter came out of the blue, but he realises that he is in the last-chance saloon and hopes to vindicate their faith by winning the Investec Derby at Epsom today on True Story.
Having come so close to cannoning Australia into Newmarket High Street when allowing his chance-ride Night of Thunder to drift across the Rowley Mile en route to 2000 Guineas glory five weeks ago, Fallon, who spent three seasons at Ballydoyle as Aidan O’Brien’s retained jockey, knows only too well the qualities of the red-hot favourite.
However, the steely-eyed determination of Fallon is all too evident as he discusses his prospects of taking the scalp of the much-hyped Australia.
Fallon, seeking a fourth Derby victory, but a first for 10 years, said: “Aidan is a brilliant trainer, but then so is Saeed Bin Suroor, and without his support I would be history, so this is such an important ride for me.
“Last year was horrendous. I was only picking up crumbs and finding it hard to get myself motivated, but I managed to get on a few spares for Godolphin at the back-end, and things spiralled from there in Dubai in the winter.”
The Irishman added: “I rode out regularly for Saeed at Al Quoz, and my appetite came back immediately. Getting on the good horses again rejuvenated me and all my confidence returned.”
It was only three years ago that Fallon finished third in the jockeys championship with 154 winners, behind Paul Hanagan and Richard Hughes, but that tally plummeted to 62 last season and he became the forgotten man of the weighing room.
Fashion is everything in sport, and, having been down as many snakes as he has climbed ladders during his career, the Irishman found himself unwanted again. It seemed that he had used up all his nine lives and was about to hit the buffers.
“He’s yesterday’s man – he’s too old,” they claimed, but Fallon, who has twice bounced back from lengthy suspensions for testing positive for cocaine, not to mention surviving a harrowing race-fixing charge at the Old Bailey, has never been one to write off. Not even when he was down for the count of nine.
Remember that Sir Gordon Richards (Pinza) and Mick Kinane (Sea the Stars) were both aged 49 when they won the Derby, and Fallon neither looks nor feels as if he is closing in on his half-century.
He had flown down from Haydock to Sandown for a double-header the night I caught up with him, and looked fit enough to get into the ring with Carl Froch, who 48 hours later struck another timely blow for the ‘old-timers’ when putting George Groves to the sword in retaining his IBF and WBA boxing titles.
Fallon, sacked from Sir Henry Cecil and who then walked away from the number one job with Sir Michael Stoute, added: “I have never felt as well as I do now. I ride out every day and play a lot of squash and golf, and I am looking after myself better. I’ve got the buzz back and I’ve Godolphin to thank for that.
“Sure, I made mistakes, but doesn’t everyone?” said the 16-time British Classic winner. “The important thing is to learn from your mistakes – maybe it took me longer to mature than others, but I have kept my head down these past nine months. I want to move on and show Sheikh Mohammed and Saeed that they were right to give me another chance.”
Fallon has ridden for some of the world’s best trainers and clearly rates Bin Suroor among them. He said: “Saeed knows the time of day and is so easy to ride for. The horses are always turned out magnificently and you could not ride for better people.
“I know that there won’t be a seventh jockeys crown, but if I can continue to ride the quality horses I’ll be happy, and, mark my words, True Story is all quality” he added.
True Story certainly looked the part when powering seven lengths clear under Fallon in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket in April and the jockey is adamant that punters should put a line through his subsequent third to The Great Gatsby in the Dante at York.
The County Clare man said: “The form got a great boost when The Great Gatsby won the French Derby last Sunday, but I remain convinced that you did not see the real True Story at York. We needed to get another run into him and, though we feared the ground would be too soft, we thought we might get away with it.
“He was fine until I asked him to quicken, and then he just floundered. But it was only the trial, so I looked after him, and he has come out of the race very well and has been working great,” claimed a confident Fallon.
“The better the ground at Epsom, the better his chance, and he’ll also improve for the step up to a mile-and-a-half. Even though conditions were wrong at York, he still galloped all the way to the line and was the last to pull up.”
Looking ahead to the buzz of the most famous flat race in the world, Fallon reflects on his success there.
“Derby Day at Epsom is a unique experience, and I have ridden horses there who have blown their brains before they have reached the start. But there are no worries about True Story’s temperament, which is a big plus. He was a bit gassy in the Feilden, but that race got it out of his system, and he has grown up enormously,” he said.
“However, True Story’s great asset is his speed. All my three previous Derby winners – Oath, Kris Kin and North Light – were gallopers, but this horse has acceleration.
“Oath won his trial impressively at Chester, Kris Kin was lazy and needed plenty of rousting and, while North Light was the best of the three in that he really wanted to please you and pointed his toe and tried his heart out, they were all horses who lengthened. True Story has gears – that is what makes him different,” said Fallon.
So what is the secret of riding Epsom, I ask? “It is a thinking-man’s course, and I love the challenge. You need to get a horse relaxed, take him down steady and ride your race from wherever you are drawn. You can get thrown both ways at the first turn, so there is no point in making firm plans. You need a good horse and some luck. I’ve got the first, and I just hope I’ll get the second.”