By Bill Finley
Kieren Fallon has had a bit of a hard time staying in one place over the last year, going back and forth from Europe and the U.S., where he was liable to show up on any given day at just about any racetrack on the map. But Fallon told Thoroughbred Daily News this week that his days of wandering around the globe are over and that he is committed to becoming a success in the U.S., particularly on the Southern California circuit.
“I am going to stay here,” he said of California. “This is where racing is, where it’s all about. There’s great racing here and good people. I love it here.”
Particularly for a rider of Fallon’s stature, 2015 was a lost year. He began the season riding in the U.S. with almost no success to speak of and then returned to Europe. He last rode there May 18 before coming back to the U.S. Once again, he struggled in the U.S. and again returned to Great Britain in the fall. In early November, he had disappeared from the European tracks and his European agent Gloria Charnock told The Guardian newspaper she literally didn’t know where he was. The puzzle wasn’t solved until he showed up at Keeneland to ride GI Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint contender Judy the Beauty (Ghostzapper) in a morning work. Fallon did not ride her in the Breeders’ Cup, Frankie Dettori did.
His peripatetic nature led to nothing but disappointment on the racetrack. Fallon won just 10 races in the UK last year from 97 mounts. His numbers in the U.S. were much worse as he went 1-for-82. His lone U.S. winner in 2015 came Jan. 8 at Santa Anita aboard the Neil Drysdale-trained Power Foot.
Fallon wouldn’t profess any disappointment about his poor showing in 2015 and instead said he looks at this year as a new beginning for him and his career.
“I think I’ll start to get better opportunities,” he said. “Doug O’Neill is starting to put me on some nice horses and I am thankful for that. For me, things haven’t really started for me here yet. It’s only really beginning. Hopefully, I’ll ride a winner in the next few days and things will take off.”
O’Neill is, in fact, a Fallon fan.
“Kieren has been very helpful in the mornings and is obviously a world-class, Hall of Fame rider from Europe,” the trainer said. “He’s been over here in the States for a little bit and has been helping us out in the mornings. He’s an amazing horseman and has such a great critique on horses. He comes back and gives you so much help, little tweaks you can make, things to add or subtract.”
Entering Friday’s card at Santa Anita, Fallon was 0 for 4 on the year, another indication his path back to stardom will not be an easy one. He will turn 51 in February, his accomplishments in Europe likely mean little to Southern California trainers and he’s going up against some of the best riders in the world, like Mike Smith, Gary Stevens, Rafael Bejarano and Victor Espinoza. He admits the competition is brutal and said the American stars are simply better than the top riders in Europe.
“They [the top U.S. jockeys] are the better riders, you’d have to say,” he remarked. “These top riders in California, they’ve been able to hold their own here for so many years. It’s tough to come here and try to compete with them. I enjoy riding against them and it keeps me sane.”
Despite his struggles, Fallon said retirement is the not something he is considering.
“I’m not thinking of retiring at all,” he said. “I feel better than I did 20 years ago and my weight is great. I don’t have much sweating to do. If I have to do 118, I’ll put a sweat suit on. But other than not, it’s not hard for me.”
Nor is he considering going home anytime soon.
“I’ve always wanted to come to America; I’ve always wanted to ride here regularly,” he said. “We race seven days a week at home, and sometimes we race day and night, and after 25 years, it got to be a bit much. And they have the same prize money for most of the races during the week that they did 50 years ago. There are great people here and it’s not hard work like it is at home. You get ponied to the start, the guys at the gate are great, they help you. It’s just a joy to be here and be a part of it.”
Fallon is a native of Ireland and has been Britain’s champion jockey six times. He has been the top stable rider over his career for such luminaries as Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien. He’s won the G1 2000 Guineas five times, the G1 1000 Guineas four times and the G1 Epsom Derby three times. In Ireland, his accomplishments include three wins in the G1 Irish Champion S. and two wins in the G1 Irish Derby. He is a two-time winner of the GI Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, with Islington in 2003 and with Ouija Board in 2004.