Sunday 15 December 2019

There's an honesty that makes this book hard to put down

Kieren Fallon's autobiography 'Form'
Kieren Fallon's autobiography 'Form'

Book review - Dean Goodison

Horse Racing is one of those sports that really struggles to

garner the respect it deserves. Yeah, true, it's popular with the public in this country, just look at the crowds that pack into the scheduled meet on any given day.

For the authorities the popularity itself is important, it doesn't really matter what's behind it. As long as those Euro notes keep flooding through the sport the world keeps turning and everyone gets paid.

But what about the jockey, the forgotten sportsmen and women, in so many ways. The sacrifice they make is enormous and not just because they put their body on the line and their health in an animal's hooves on a daily basis.

It's having to make the weight; not eating properly, or not eating at all. It's the dismantling effect it has on family; the hours, leaving the house before sunrise, returning when partner and kids are asleep.

And all the while these men and women are among the fittest sports people around. Yet to most they are a caricature they follow on an afternoon out, on an occasion. At the end of the day horse racing, to most, is a day to glam up, place a few bets and knock back the drinks.

Therefore, it's of huge importance to peel back the dirty layers of the sideshow and see what life is like behind the silks. No better way of doing that than delving into the thoughts of a man who's lived the life and no better man to read about than Kieren Fallon.

We don't usually talk much about the presentation of publications in a review. However, having now read Fallon's autobiography 'Form', there's something striking about the image the publisher (Simon & Schuster) has chosen for the cover.

To look at the book it's just a picture of a middle-aged man with a steely expression. Yet, if ever a picture could paint 300-odd pages this is it. It's Fallon, it's a weary expression that says so much, it's his life through a Canon.

Listen, the Clare native is probably not everyones cup of tea. Certainly his personality has something to do with that, he has that unfriendly demeanor, that unapproachable manner which doesn't help outsiders give you the benefit of the doubt.

Yet it's probably more to do with the image of Fallon that has been cultivated elsewhere. He is no stranger to controversy - much of which seems to have found him rather than the jockey going out searching for it himself.

So much so that this book has two distinct themes - Fallon's career on the track and his troubles because of the sport. Oliver Holt, sports journalist for the Mail on Sunday does a good job balancing both themes as ghostwriter.

The detail of the races are not technical enough to turn off the lay person but are complete enough to add decent flesh to bare records. However, the real strength of this publication is in the off-course information. Fallon's brushes with authority are scattered throughout the book but the last few chapters, that deal with his trial and acquittal for race fixing, are some of the strongest, most interesting you'll read this year.

This is the classic time of year for books, everybody should have at least one under the Christmas tree. That said, who might finish off the Turkey and Ham and have this waiting for them?

Every fan of sports should read at least one jockey autobiography in their lifetime and they could do far worse than Fallon's. The book doesn't outstay its welcome because there's a frailty about it, an honesty that makes it hard to put down.

Wexford People

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