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 Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 12:44 GMT
Fallon's greatest challenge

Kieren Fallon's revelation that he is battling an alcohol problem is the latest twist in the champion Flat jockey's turbulent life.

Champion jockey Kieren Fallon
Fallon has won a host of Classic races
Rarely can the overused term "rollercoaster career" have earned such justification.

Just three months ago, the Irishman clinched his fifth riders' championship in six years, having recovered from an horrific shoulder injury in 2000 which nearly ended his career.

Along the path of success, the brilliant horseman from County Clare has survived high-profile splits with some of racing's most influential trainers and owners and shrugged off stories about his private life.

But the news, revealed in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper, that he is undergoing a 30-day programme at an Irish treatment centre, surely represents his biggest challenge yet.

FALLON HIGHS
First winner: 1984
First winner in UK: 1988
Champion jockey: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002
Classic wins: Derby 1999; 1,000 Guineas 1997, 1999; 2,000 Guineas 2000, 2001; Oaks 1997, 1999.

It is not just a personal blow to the married father-of-three, but also a wake-up call for a sport which has been battered by bad publicity.

Fallon himself, with a scowling stare, gave a memorably silent response to questions in the BBC Panorama programme which claimed to expose the corruption of horse racing.

Now, in a week when gambling footballers made the headlines, Fallon's drink problem illustrates the heavy burden on jockeys.

They face a constant struggle with the pressure of their sport and the unique problems posed by making the weights for rides.

"From the time I was an apprentice, a lot of us have ducked and dived looking for an easy way to beat the problem," Fallon told the Sunday Times.

"We learnt to throw up our food immediately after eating. We took pills - a pill to kill your appetite, another to keep you on an even keel mentally."

Fallon's teetotal jump jockey counterpart Tony McCoy has been known to ride at two stone below his natural weight in his relentless quest to secure the top mounts.

FALLON LOWS
1994: Six-month ban for pulling another jockey off his horse at Beverley
1999: Split with Henry Cecil after newspaper reports linked the trainer's wife Natalie with an unnamed jockey
2000: Sidelined by horrific injury at Royal Ascot
2001: Criticised for some rides; splits with trainer Michael Stoute
2003: Admits alcohol problem, receives treatment in Irish clinic

Walter Swinburn, who famously won the Epsom Derby on Shergar in 1981, quit the saddle aged 38 after a long battle against the scales.

Fallon will be the same age in February, but despite this latest setback, his remarkable powers of recovery should not be underestimated.

He may essentially be a quiet man, but he can also sense his place in history.

"But for the injury two years ago, this would be six championships on the bounce, and I don't think anyone has done that since the war," he said in November 2002.

"When you win a title you never want to let it go and it would be good to beat Pat's [Eddery] 11 championships."

Fallon aims to be back in the saddle in February, and has vowed never to drink again.


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