Epsom Derby: Fallon comeback down to 'change of lifestyle'

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent
Kieren Fallon
Kieren Fallon

Kieren Fallon puts much of his acclaimed 2014 resurgence down to a dramatic change of lifestyle.

The 49-year-old admits that late last year he feared that a career that had netted him six flat jockeys' championships and success in 16 British Classic races, including the Derby three times, might be over.

The buzz of competing at the highest level seemed to have gone.

However, just a few months on, Fallon finds himself preparing to try to win a fourth Derby, riding the fancied True Story for Sheikh Mohammed's global Godolphin racing operation, his new employer.

And, as well as that, he comes to Epsom with a classic triumph already under his belt, on the Richard Hannon-trained Night Of Thunder in this season's 2000 Guineas.

Suddenly, "yesterday's man" is bubbling with confidence again, like the proverbial new kid on the block.

Indeed, such are his high spirits when we meet at Newmarket racecourse that he jokes to the usual occupant of the office in which we're chatting that this is "a nice interview, not a police-like interview when I haven't done anything wrong."

It's a reference to the decision of detectives to bring 'race-fixing' charges against Fallon, who ended up in the dock at the Old Bailey, only for the trial to collapse with all defendants cleared.

That, the highest profile of a number of controversies that have dogged his 30 or so years in the saddle, was 2007, and seems an age ago now, but is clearly not forgotten by the man at the centre of the storm.

But back to this season, and speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, Fallon said: "I feel better now, I'm looking after myself better than I used to. I play a lot of squash and a lot of golf.

"I ride out on the gallops now every day. When I finish riding out for Godolphin, I ride out for somebody else, until I go racing.

"It's a rush, but I think it's the best way to come racing, rather than getting out of bed at 12 o'clock and falling into the weighing room."

Acknowledging that way of life was all too often his routine late last year, he went on: "Towards the back end, I found it hard to get rides, and basically by going to Dubai and getting the opportunity to ride for Godolphin and trainer Saeed bin Suroor, things picked up from there."

Working for Godolphin completes an unprecedented full house of number one jobs for the jockey, who's previously been in the hot seat with the three other major forces of modern Flat racing: Coolmore, Sir Michael Stoute and the late Sir Henry Cecil.

He was not, however, in the saddle when True Story burst into the Epsom reckoning in April with a victory at Newmarket that was packed with authority. Silvestre de Sousa rode.

In a surprise, and not entirely explained move, Brazil-born de Sousa was subsequently replaced by his colleague from County Clare, but the new partnership suffered an ignominious start when suffering defeat (third) in York's Dante Stakes.

However, Fallon is convinced that day's rain-softened going didn't help their cause, so is hoping for a dry week at Epsom, both for True Story and for the Godolphin filly Ihtimal, his mount in the Oaks.

That said, with his glittering record around Epsom's notoriously hard-to-navigate twists and turns, punters across these islands will be following the now veteran jockey whatever the underfoot conditions.

Explaining an undoubted affinity with the course, he said: "It's like horses for courses: because I've done so well around there over the years, I feel great, and, as anything in life, if your confidence levels are very high, you always excel and do better.

Kieron Fallon after Epsom Derby win in 1999
Fallon after his first Derby win on Oath in 1999

"I love Epsom. When I go there, I get a buzz. Even in the week up to it, it's exciting, and your horses can feel that, and you can get the best out of them."

True Story and Ihtimal are among a group that are due to be Godolphin's first Epsom Classic runners since Sheikh Mohammed's stable was at the centre of a notorious incident last year which saw 22 of its horses doped by their now banned trainer.

So, assuming the going is not too soft, and True Story does show his imperious best and provides his rider with a fourth Derby win after Oath, Kris Kin and North Light, how good would that be for Fallon?

"The highlight, it would be, to win it at this stage of my career, the way things have gone.

"Night Of Thunder's win in the Guineas gave me a bigger thrill than any of my Derbys or Guineas or whatever before because I enjoyed it better because I didn't think it'd happen again."

You have to say it would be some story if the colourful ex-champion who six months ago struggled to get out of bed in the morning won the Derby for a stable still completing the bounce back from scandal.

But it would be a True Story.

An interview with Kieren Fallon will feature in an Investec Derby preview on BBC Radio 5 live at 21:30 on Tuesday, 3 June