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Monday, 10 December, 2018

'It's not easy changing from one career to another. It's a big step'

The six-time champion jockey, 52, takes our weekly grilling

Kieren Fallon: riding out for Godolphin in retirement
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What advice would you give your ten-year-old self?
Think carefully about who you trust. 

What is your earliest racing memory?
Going to the Galway races with my father. It was Galway Plate day and we backed a horse at 25-1 called The Lady's Master. I thought the most amusing thing was the little saddles on the horses. The only saddles I had seen before then were cowboy saddles on the TV.

When did you first know you’d become a jockey and why?
As long as I can remember it was all I wanted to do. Where I come from in a remote part of Ireland you would never have thought it possible. In County Clare we don't have any racecourses and there were no trainers. All the different professions were listed on the back of our school books, including how to be a jockey. I wrote to the Turf Club, who gave me a list of trainers. I wrote to probably every trainer in Ireland and Kevin Prendergast wrote back within days, so I went to him.

Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
Jimmy FitzGerald and Jack and Lynda Ramsden, who put me on the path to where I ended up.

How are you and what are you doing now you have retired?
It's not easy changing from one career to another. It's a big step from where I was to where I am now. I'm riding out for Godolphin and enjoying my work and I hope it continues. I helped out on ITV during the Craven and Lockinge meetings and I could have a couple of other slots during the year depending on how it goes. As nervous as I was, I did enjoy it. 

What do you miss most about riding and what do you like most about retirement?
The buzz, the excitement of Royal Ascots, Epsom Derbys, the winning. What I like now is not having to travel as much – five or six hours every day in the car. I would be stuck on the M25 every Friday not moving. By the time you get to a meeting your head is wrecked. You'd be doing 100mph up the hard shoulder. You don't realise how crazy it was just to get to a Kempton evening meeting to ride the winner of a £3,000 race. We all do it but until you look back and think you don't realise how crazy it was.

What was your greatest Epsom Derby moment and why?
You would have to say it was the first when I won the Oaks on Ramruma and the Derby on Oath in the same year. I never felt nervous. When I got on a horse I was in my own world. I could see what was all around me in the race but I couldn't see or hear anything else. I would go into that mode. I loved the horse I was riding and all I wanted was to get attached to it, talk to it, play with its mane, make a fuss of it. My last one on North Light was more exciting because it was so simple. I knew he would win, he was so straightforward and he just sprinted away. I was able to enjoy that one, more than the others, which were more pressurised. They say pressure is for tyres but deep down there is pressure. Around Derby time I used to get cold sores, which you get because you are run down.

North Light and Kieren Fallon win the 2004 Derby: "It was so simple. I knew he'd win"
Would you rather win the Derby or be champion jockey?
It's a tough question because both were important to me. You only have to look back at the great jockeys who have struggled to win the jockeys' championship again after winning it once. In fairness to them they had battles on their hands and I never really had anyone to battle with. Richard Hughes had to go to places like Wolverhampton. I was lucky enough that I never had to do that. The Derby is so unique.

If you could play any other sport professionally, which would it be and why?
I love golf and I love squash. I could play squash for hours and if I can play 36 holes of golf I do – I love it. If you asked me to run 100 yards that would be hard work but if there's a ball to chase I'll follow it.

What do you think racing does best?
It brings so many different kinds of people together. It's a great industry and a worldwide sport. It's amazing.

Other than better prize-money, what is the one thing you would change about racing?
I wouldn't change a whole lot but you do have to change the prize-money. All the small owners are gone because it's too expensive to keep a horse in training for the prize-money they're racing for. It was feasible years ago because you were riding for the same prize-money at the lower end. If you won a race or two or got placed you would cover your costs for the year. Now it would cost you more to get to the race sometimes than you get in prize-money.

Which country would you most like to race in that you haven’t yet?
New Zealand.

Frankel or Dancing Brave?
Frankel.

What’s your biggest ambition in racing?
I have my son Cieran coming behind me. He's with William Haggas and hopefully he can do better than me. He looks good.

And outside of racing?
I would love to help the younger jockeys coming through.

What is your worst habit?
Annoying people. I'm always messing around, playing pranks.

If you could meet one person, past or present, who would it be?
I would have said Mother Teresa but I did actually meet her, probably the greatest person I ever met. In my first year riding in Calcutta I went to her convent. She's a saint now. I'd like to meet her again.

What has been your most embarrassing moment?
Getting arrested, the Ballinger Ridge race, how embarrassing were they! Also I was once invited to a dinner by the Queen but I didn't get the invite until after it happened. I was so embarrassed.

What is your most treasured possession?
My kids.

How do you relax away from racing?
Other than golf or squash, I take my dogs, Cindy and Oscar, out walking.

What is the strangest/funniest thing you have seen on a racecourse?
We were at Goodwood, where there's always somebody famous hanging around, and Rowan Atkinson was outside the weighing room. Little Andrea Atzeni said Mr Bean was his hero and wanted to have a picture with him. One of the lads went out to ask if he minded. Andrea popped out to see him and get his picture, and what you noticed about them is they are remarkably alike. You'd think Andrea was a baby Mr Bean. We were all watching and laughing our heads off and Mr Bean was very puzzled. He probably thought we had made Andrea up to look like him.

Who do you most admire from the ‘other’ code?
I admire them all, they're so brave. I couldn't do it. We get a little sprain, we cry and sulk. They get battered, bruised, kicked around the place, and they're up and running again.

What’s your biggest fear?
Not waking up in the morning.

Do you have a nickname?
David Loder nicknamed me Peter Pan years ago.

Social media – friend or foe?
It's good to promote yourself but I'm not into all that. I don't even have an email address.

Who would be your four ideal dinner party guests?
Jemma-Louise Shakespeare, Kate Hudson, Morgan Freeman and Lee Nelson.

When I got on a horse I was in my own world. I could see what was all around me in the race but I couldn't see or hear anything else

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