Ceiren with a C

Find a man and sit him down. Discover what he likes to drink and order it. Ask him to describe his
relationship with his father. Say it’s serious.

There will be a deeper than usual breath and the eyes might re-focus into the middle distance. ‘Well …’,
he will answer, smiling and frowning at the same time, ‘it’s complicated …’

So it is. The bible is preoccupied by the paternal/filial question and the Greeks took the subject so
seriously they needed the extreme example of Oedipus. It’s a constant theme in Shakespeare.

Chekhov, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Brain Friel have all wrestled with the matter and Dylan
Thomas sometimes seems to have written about nothing else. Dad’s and sons are fascinating, but
they’re a problem.

Ceiren Fallon is 22. It’s common to talk of new kids on the block as having ‘burst onto the scene’.
Ceiren really did. Although he had excelled in other sports like football he had, until three years ago,
never sat on a horse. He’d never wanted to. So to become Champion Apprentice in 2019 is some
entrance, and one that inevitably attracted attention. Now, in his first full season, a time when many
promising jockeys struggle, he is doing fine.

Aside from the natural interest in a promising newcomer there was another reason ears were pricked
and heads turned. The young man achieving this abrupt success was the son of Keiren Fallon. Most of
us didn’t know there was one.

People who know nothing about racing have heard of Keiren Fallon. He made the front pages in 1994
when he pulled another jockey from his horse in the immediate aftermath of a race. That earned a six
month ban. There were then two substantial bans for drug use. He was sacked by his trainer when at
the top of his game for well publicised ‘personal’ reasons and certain owners disliked him so much
they gave instructions that he was not to ride their horses, even though he won on them. There were
alcohol problems and he was arrested and put on trial for race-fixing. The case was thrown out.

Kieran Fallon pulls Stuart Webster off his horse at Beverley, 1994

What made this drama gripping was that the leading actor was a genius. When Kieren sat on a horse
it felt like we were looking at a single animal. He was one of those highly gifted self destructive
individuals who are compelled by some beast to occasionally create mayhem.

Such people are often so possessed by one thing, and so good at it, that they forget to know about
anything else. In that respect they stay children, charming and selfish. They write their own rules. It’s
great on the good days, less so otherwise. The low points, the public rows, the stuff that makes the
front page instead of the back, all reveal vulnerability which we, the public, from a safe distance,
respond to emotionally. We love brilliant people who get things wrong. We want to know more, and

So when a chip beginning with C flew from the block beginning with K and shaped like it could be as
good or better we were agog. And still are.

It isn’t Ceiren’s fault. Heredity is clearly at work. It isn’t enough to be young, fit and ambitious to sit on
a horse and win race after race against other people who also want to win. Ceiren has got a lot of
Keiren in him, obviously, and a lot of Kieren’s instinct. What we can’t help but wonder is, what about
the bad bits? Are they present?

Father and Son

Provisionally the answer is an absolute negative, but Ceiren is condemned to exist, as a jockey, not
necessarily in the shadow of his father but in the context of him. It will be a career of comparisons.

When I ask if he has sympathy for his father’s fallibility the answer is a firm ‘no’. Ceiren doesn’t drink or
smoke and has never been in any trouble that we know about. He was brought up by his mother,
ex-jockey Julie Bowker, after his parents split. He didn’t keep tabs on his father’s career. When I ask if
that was because he was angry with him he says no. I asked about the name. It’s common for a son to
be called after the father, but unusual to have the same name spelt differently. Ceiren’s explanation,
offered with some laughter, is that while it was originally a K his mother, confused by various letters
addressed to ‘Keiren’, decided to change the initial without altering the pronunciation.

He talks with pace, intelligence and passion. There is some emphasis and a trace of anger when he
declares that his father would have won twice as many championships without the distractions, and he
denies absolutely that the same devil is in him. He admits to aggression and that he has ‘no friends’ in
a race, but it all ends at the winning post. His father, he says, had bad advice or no advice whereas he
has people around him who keep him honest and focused.

Part of the support is a morning discussion with both parents on the day ahead, usually followed by one
of them driving him to the track.

Ceiren cheerfully agrees that an ambition is to surpass his father’s record. It’s some aspiration. To
achieve it he will have to become one of the best jockeys of the last 100 years. He has upped the stakes
big time. When we stand in a betting shop and watch him ride the favourite in a claimer at Kempton we
now know what he’s trying to do.

Even the most warlike son of ancient Greece might have thought twice about going public with that
kind of long term plan.

However, since the runners and riders in the Dad Lad Stakes, distance unknown, are now declared,
here is the breakdown. Keiren, 2578 winners, Champion jockey 6 times, 17 classic wins including 3
Derbys, record after 2 seasons 74 successful rides. Cieren, currently in his second year, 91 wins. The
son is 4 years younger than the father at the equivalent career stage and Keiren lost at least 3 seasons
to suspension and injury.

At this very early juncture Cieren has a slight lead.

But in the all-time list of successful jockeys Keiren is 11th. The son is not just taking on his father, but
history. Keiren was often called the best in the world but one of his progeny is now committed to
proving that he wasn’t even the best in his own family. In the passionate illogic of human impulse
Keiren is probably delighted, most of the time. It will take about 25 years. That’s a long time cutting
chunks out of the bedpost.

If Ceiren ever wondered, like sons do, how best to get his father’s attention he knows now.

One day there will be a result, and an answer to the question of who was the best. When it comes the
protagonists might agree that it didn’t really matter. If Ceiren ever gets there it’s safe to say there will
be two happy Fallons.

The trouble with that other competition between father and son, the complicated one, is that one can
never tell who is winning. There’s isn’t a latest score, never mind a conclusion, and no-one knows
where the winning line is. Ceiren and Keiren, and a few billion others, will have to keep on worrying
and arguing, rowing and making up, until they sort it out.

When it gets too much there’s always sport.