Kieren Fallon intent on delivering for young trainer

Michael O’Callaghan happy to secure services of jockey who will always be box-office

 

Giants of the training game assembled at the Curragh on Tuesday to help launch the 2016 flat season and yet, and not for the first time, it was the diminutive figure of Kieren Fallon who generated most media excitement.

The popular reputation of racing’s most controversial champion jockey still possesses something of the night but he was up bright and early riding out in his latest reincarnation as Michael O’Callaghan’s stable jockey.

Fallon’s 51 now, and has ridden just a handful of winners in Ireland so far this year, but he has always been box-office, as much for his capacity to bounce back from potentially lethal career setbacks as that uncanny ability which has seen him win practically every European race worth winning.

It’s that ability which O’Callaghan went looking for last Christmas when approaching the then-California based rider to try and tempt him home to Ireland.

They make a curious combination, the little-known trainer, just 27, and his worldly jockey who has navigated the extremes of sporting and personal experience in the full glare of the public gaze.

“I rang him at Christmas and I was rattling talking to him,” recalls O’Callaghan. “Aidan O’Brien said Kieren was probably the best horseman he had in Ballydoyle so it’s great to have him. He’s been there, done that, got it wrong, and got it right!”

Any nerves around the legendary figure appear to have long disappeared. O’Callaghan described Fallon as “a big kid, the biggest messer in the place.” Some of it appears to have rubbed off.

On Tuesday, one of the country’s most upwardly mobile young trainers mischievously called a halt to his horses being pulled out for the media to examine and shouted to his jockey - “Kieren, you’re up next!”

If the mood was jolly, it was no doubt helped by how O’Callaghan goes into the upcoming Curragh Guineas classics with two good chances, Blue De Vega in the 2,000, but perhaps especially the Fallon ridden Now Or Never in the 1,000.

“She’s a serious filly. I don’t care what else is in the race. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I like my filly,” Fallon said to the throng before conceding he had contemplated retirement in the recent past.

“It doesn’t matter who you are; if you’re not riding big winners, no one wants you. Night Of Thunder (English Guineas) gave me a kick-start a couple of years ago. Hopefully this filly can do the same,” he said.

Should Now Or Never propel her jockey back into the classic spotlight it will be a welcome box-office injection for a turf season already nearly two months old but which was only officially ‘launched’ by Horse Racing Ireland on Tuesday.

The Irish public’s long-established appetite for the jumps rather than the richer, international flat game meant any launch during the spring festival season would barely have cleared the ground in PR terms.

At least part of that public resistance to the flat’s charms comes from a perception of an hierarchical elite, both in terms of the immense financial wealth possessed by a small group of international owners, and perhaps even a group of trainers who have dominated here for a long time.

Sure enough, at a subsequent breakfast at the Curragh racecourse, Jim Bolger and Dermot Weld spoke about their prospects for the season while Aidan O’Brien joined by phone from Ballydoyle.

O’Callaghan however is a very new face. From Tralee in Co. Kerry, he was originally backed by his father, also Michael, an ESB linesman for 20 years, until leaving in 2002 to start a telecom company, TLI Group, which now employs over 400 staff.

His son started training in 2012 and now rents Crotanstown stables on the Curragh, a historic yard that has produced 12 classic winners in the past, and hosted one Aidan O’Brien in his first job working for PJ Finn. Fallon sees comparisons between his old and current employers.

“Both are very dedicated, very sharp; they’re very, very similar,” he said. “Michael is young and has a great eye for a horse. That’s important. You don’t have to spend a lot to get a good horse.”

E75,000 is a lot of money in the real world but it is peanuts at the top of the flat and that’s what O’Callaghan paid for Blue De Vega at a ‘Breeze-Up’ Sale last year. At the end of his juvenile career, presumably at least one nought was added to that figure when the colt was bought by Qater Racing.

A printed brochure advertising the yard, and an impressive website, are just a couple of signs of O’Callaghan’s new approach to an old craft, although it took another of the sport’s newer training stars, Ger Lyons, to point out how some things never change.

“It’s all about sourcing horses, and improving every year,” Lyons said.

Michael O’Callaghan will tell you sourcing jockeys can be a help too.

From the horse’s mouth

Fascinating Rock - “He is in great form and hopefully we will renew our challenge with Found in two weeks (Tattersalls Gold Cup.) He will improve for his last run as he’s a hard horse to get fit first time out. In my opinion, Found is the best mare in the world and The Grey Gatsby is a great contender as well. I imagine the Champion Stakes at the end of the season will be the plan again.” - Dermot Weld

Endless Drama - “It’s nervous times until Saturday (Lockinge Stakes) I’m very happy with him. It’s a huge ask, after nearly a year off, but he’s as ready as I can have him. Ideally we will go Lockinge, Queen Anne at Royal Ascot and you’d love to think maybe Irish Champion Stakes at the end of the summer. He doesn’t want extremes of ground.” - Ger Lyons

Moonlight Magic - “It doesn’t look like he will run in the Irish Guineas. We are aiming for Epsom (Derby) and all being well will try and do the double at the Curragh. If I had to make a comparison it would be with St Jovite. He is straightforward and takes his work well. Turret Rocks will go for the Irish 1,000 Guineas. I feel there’s more to come from her.” - Jim Bolger

Blue De Vega - “He is very talented and has a lot of presence. He thinks he owns the place. I’m delighted we didn’t go to Newmarket as he needed a bit more time. He proved that when second in the Listed race instead. He will improve quite a bit for that. He’s from a staying family so what he did at two was down to pure talent. He will step up to a mile and a quarter in time.” - Michael O’Callaghan

Air Force Blue - “We have changed a good few things since he ran at Newmarket. He didn’t travel as strongly at Newmarket as he normally does and maybe we pushed him a little too hard. He won’t wear a tongue strap at the Curragh (Irish 2,000 Guineas) and if it is nice ground, we’re looking forward to running him again” - Aidan O’Brien

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