The growing bond between the once troubled six-time champion jockey Kieren Fallon and the 21-year-old son he saw all too little of growing up has been one of the most engaging stories of the last two years.
Fallon senior was late hitting the big time in a career that was punctuated by some shocking lows, many of them self induced, but young Cieren has proved a more precocious talent and has made a near perfect start to his riding career despite having no interest in racing until he was 18.
Graham Dench enjoyed a socially distanced interview with the pair via FaceTime.
“Growing up I had zero interest in horses and didn’t follow Dad’s career because we didn’t really see much of him as he was flat out, flying around. We would only really see him when he was on his way to Ireland on the ferry, or on the way back, when he would stop off at the boarding school my sister and I were at in North Wales.
At that time I did a lot of football and rugby league, and running too, including some fell running. I played in the football academy at boarding school and ran for North Wales, and all this time I gave horses no thought at all, although I must have sat on ponies when I was a kid.
I don’t actually know what prompted the change in heart, but one day I told Dad that I wanted to have a go at what he did. He was open to whatever I wanted to do, which is the way it’s always been in our family, and that’s when he brought me down to Newmarket. We started at Phil McEntee’s and then went on to Adam Kirby’s. Both of the horses they put me on went wild, but I stayed on and that was it for me.
I did the 14-week course at the British Racing School, and then got the job with Mr Haggas off my own bat. I met him one Sunday afternoon at Somerville Lodge and he told me to start the next day. I wasn’t living with Dad at that stage as I’d bought a house with my sisters and was living there on my own, but he movedin when he got back from Dubai and I got back from my winter in Australia, so he was with me throughout my championship winning season.
Dad took me racing loads that year, and so did my mother and other lads in the weighing room. It definitely helped me being my father’s son, because I was respected straight away. It’s not that they don’t respect other kids, but what my father has done in the sport certainly earned me extra respect. I had a bit of a connection with some of the older lads anyway from when I’d been a kid – jockeys like Franny Norton and Jimmy Quinn in particular – and some of the other senior guys gave me a lot of support too, especially James Doyle, who was first jockey to Mr Haggas that year, and Andrea Atzeni.
I’ve passed my driving test now and we aren’t living in the same house, but Dad has taken me to the races quite a few times again this year and he was there for Oxted in the July Cup.
I’d told him a week before the race that I’d win it, and I repeated it after we’d walked the course together. That was an unforgettable day, winning a Group 1 while still an apprentice, and in a race that Dad never won. And I beat Frankie Dettori, too, in a race I believe is the only English Group 1 that he’s never won.
It doesn’t get much better than that for a kid of 20, and it was for such a nice guy in Roger Teal. It was Roger’s first Group 1 too, but we were both so relaxed beforehand. Roger just told me to track them and pounce, and it was so special.
I’ve caught up on Dad’s career now by watching a lot of the big wins and he was alright, wasn’t he? I wouldn’t model my style on him, but everyone has a different body shape and different muscle mass, and if you look at Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore and Silvestre De Sousa for example, they all have different styles that work for them.
What I do get from my Dad, and from my mum too, is my competitive nature. If we are walking to the car I want to be the first one there. If we are playing golf, or table tennis or whatever, Dad and I both want to win. We are pretty even at most sports, which makes it interesting for now, but one day I want to be beating him every time.
I also want to ride more Classic winners than he did and be champion jockey more times too, definitely. Dad took a long time to get going and hadn’t achieved what I’ve achieved at my age. I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me in comparison, and when you think that he achieved what he did despite all of the other stuff that was going on it shows what’s possible. He could have been champion jockey as many times as he wanted to if it wasn’t for the other stuff. As it was he was champion six times, and it would have been seven in a row if it wasn’t for that terrible injury at Ascot when he was well clear.
I’m never going to fall for all of the malarkey that he went through. Jesus no, I won’t let myself go down some of the roads he went down! I’ve got so many advantages that Dad didn’t have at the same stage. Look at the people I work for and the ammunition they have, and look at the jockey coaches that I have which he never had. I believe I’ve got a long future ahead of me, but Mr and Mrs Haggas don’t want me to get there too quickly as once you are at the top, there’s only one way you can go.
“What I do get from my Dad, and from my mum too, is my competitive nature”
They are helping build me up steadily and so far I’ve been champion apprentice, I’m leading the title race again, I’ve won a Group 3 and then a Group 1, and now I’ve got the number two job with Qatar Racing. It couldn’t have gone better and if I could win the apprentice title again it would just top it off.
I’ve started off with a great platform and I’m going to stay focused. I’ve got an unbelievable family behind me too, and Dad and I are making up for lost time now, although we aren’t in the same house any more. We still see a lot of each other and he’ll ring me if he thinks I’ve ridden a bad race. It’s only happened about three times though, luckily not after any high-profile races, and he’ll ring me when I’ve ridden well too.
Although it’s going great I’ll never take anything for granted though. How could I after seeing all Dad’s ups and downs, and Frankie’s too. I’ve been brought up in a very humble way and my family would kill me if I ever got big headed. I’m thankful for every opportunity and I know I’ve got to keep working on every aspect of my riding if I’m going to fulfil my ambitions.
But if Dad decides to go to America one day I know now that I’ll be fine.”
“Lockdown has restricted life for all of us, but we’ve been lucky in racing and anyway I’ve had a great distraction in following Cieren’s progress. Apart from Covid everything else is good, and I feel I’m in a good place, although my plan to go up north to join Adrian Keatley after he moved his string over from Ireland had to be shelved because of lockdown and all of the other implications.
I’d already left Saeed [Bin Suroor] and I was really looking forward to teaming up with Adrian, but I’m now with Mohamed Moubarak, who has always been a good friend and has a lovely little string in a great yard. I love riding out and when that’s done I have the rest of the day to do what I want. A life with horses is second to none.
It’s been exciting the way things have gone for Cieren, and it was great for him when he was offered the number two spot with Qatar Racing behind Oisin [Murphy] as he’d only just ridden out his claim, and most apprentices struggle without their allowance. So many apprentices who you felt sure would make it get lost out there, so being offered that job and knowing he was wanted by a top owner without his claim was a great confidence booster for him, regardless of the money and that sort of thing.
“It’s looking at the moment as if he might win the apprentice title again”
It’s all happened very quickly for Cieren, as he’d never ridden a thoroughbred until he was 18 I think. I’d just come back from Dubai when he let me know that he wanted to go to the apprentice school to learn to ride, so I thought I should show him some of the basics before he went there. We went up to Phil McEntee’s and he got on some wild thing that had barely been out of its box for two weeks, and we all watched as it took off with him. I thought it was going to go flat out through the rails and it would have been all over before it started, but he stayed on somehow. We then went up to Adam Kirby’s and the horse they put him on went straight up in the air with him. He could have been killed the first two times he got on a horse, but he stayed on somehow.
He’d not been bad at rugby, football and running, and as he was sporty like that I shouldn’t have been surprised he took to riding. It couldn’t have gone better really and it turned out lucky that he joined William Haggas, rather than going to a more obvious apprentice academy like Andrew Balding’s or Richard Hannon’s, even though William would admit he doesn’t really want apprentices and doesn’t need them.
William and Maureen didn’t want him riding too many winners too quickly, and even though he was champion apprentice last year that was never the plan. There were plenty of good apprentices up against him, and we were really just looking for a good foundation before going for it this year. It’s looking at the moment as if he might win the apprentice title again, but in racing we shouldn’t take anything for granted, especially with Covid and its restrictions.
I was especially proud when Cieren won the July Cup on Oxted, as those top sprints are tough for apprentices and you need a clock to know how hard they are going. I’d always liked the horse since Cieren won the Portland on him, and you couldn’t have asked for anything more than the ride he gave him at Newmarket. Whatever happened after that, this year was always going to be a bonus.
People say they see something of me in the way Cieren rides, but that was never the idea as I was never a very tidy rider. But lately I’ve seen him rowing away, getting them stretching and lengthening before he really goes for them, like I used to; I like to see that. The other day on one of Adrian Keatley’s he looked beat for sure, but he was just rowing away and when he went for him he picked up and took off.
It’s not something I taught though, as you can’t really teach someone how to ride. We’d walk the track together and I’d tell him the best way to ride it, which is a help to him, but I don’t go through videos with him – there’s no point. He’s got his jockey coaches Michael Hills and Michael Tebbutt for that, although if I think he’s ridden a bad race I’ll ring him. It doesn’t happen often, and he might say ‘but I was told to do that’, but things can change when you leave the gates and you can’t be tied down.
“People say they see something of me in the way Cieren rides, but that was never the idea”
I don’t say you shouldn’t have done this or that, but I’ll tell him what I would have done in the same situation and he can take it from there. I suppose I’m expecting him to ride as well as an apprentice as I did when I was riding the likes of King’s Best and North Light. If I was a coach, I wouldn’t be sugar coating things. I’d be hard.
If Cieren hadn’t taken to race riding I’d probably be in America now, possibly training, but I couldn’t go there while he was getting started here. It would have been a nightmare trying to look over his shoulder and see how he was doing, wondering how he was getting everywhere and that sort of thing.
I’d never have settled, but it might still happen one day. We’ll see, but Cieren is off and running now and once this coronavirus thing is over we’ll take another look and where we are going.”