Every Classic winner is a special moment in the career of a jockey. But few hold as much significance for Kieren Fallon as his victory 20 years ago aboard King’s Best in the 2000 Guineas.
Not only was it his inaugural success in the mile showpiece, it was a win that marked the first of many big-race triumphs Fallon would go on to enjoy at the highest level during a four-year stint as stable jockey to Sir Michael Stoute.
Though Fallon was responsible for steering King’s Best to the most important victory of his career, he gained an insight into his talents long before getting the chance to sit on him, as he was in opposition in the Acomb Stakes at York the previous summer.
Fallon said: “I really liked this horse called Shamrock City I was riding in the Acomb, but Gary Stevens just whizzed past us on King’s Best.
“At that time I didn’t think he would be my 2000 Guineas ride as I thought Shamrock City would be. Fortunately for me though when I lost the job with Sir Henry Cecil I ended up with Sir Michael Stoute and Gary Stevens went back to America, so it just fell into my hands.
“Every jockey needs to pick up a good horse each season, whether it is a two-year-old or three-year-old, a filly or a colt, as everything else then just falls into place.”
Even the very best make mistakes from time to time and Fallon blames himself for the surprise defeat of King’s Best in the Craven Stakes on his seasonal return.
He said: “I gave him a bad ride in the Craven and I simply kicked too soon. The Rowley Mile is one of the hardest tracks to ride – a lot of people don’t realise that, they simply think it’s a straight track with a few undulations.
“If I had just sat and waited on him that day I would have won, but it never went to plan. The Guineas was the big day though and I rode a better race then. You can’t dwell on bad rides, you just have to move on.”
Though the Craven defeat was disappointing at the time, it helped Fallon develop a real connection with the horse – and appreciate the master touch possessed by Stoute.
He added: “What I did do was learn a lot about the horse, I spent a lot of time with him and I would ride him most of the time. I think it is important for jockeys to get to know the horses and have a feel for them.
“Just being on them and walking back giving them that pat or pick of grass from the gallops builds that bond, as opposed to just getting on them and galloping them to the start on the track.
“He wasn’t easy to train, but Sir Michael Stoute, as you know, is a genius and his record speaks for itself and he has a real knack of getting the best out of tricky horses.
“He was a very keen horse and the key to him was getting him to switch off. He was beat in the Craven as I went too soon, but Sir Michael was a master at getting a horse to peak.”
Like all good riders Fallon excelled when the pressure was on, such as the position he found himself at the halfway stage of the Guineas.
He said: “If I was riding a favourite in a seller I would be a little bit on edge, but in the Classics and big races I just felt much more confident and that transmitted through to the horse
“I didn’t panic in the Guineas, as if I did I would have been in trouble. It really was a case of the Red Sea opening. It was miraculous and you wouldn’t ever get that run again like that on a track like that when they all shifted left to the stands rail.
“They were going very hard up front and that helped him relax, but even if I’d wanted to kick sooner I couldn’t have done as I had to wait for the gaps to come.
“I’d say that when Mick Kinane kicked on Giant’s Causeway he thought it was all over and usually it would be, but we swooped by and ended up beating him easily enough at the finish.”
A small setback prevented King’s Best from being given the chance to follow up his triumph in the Derby, a race Fallon is confident he would have won, before his career was brought to a premature end when pulling up in the Irish Derby at the Curragh that July.
Fallon said: “For sure I think he would have won the Derby, as the piece of work he did before the race had Sir Michael rubbing his hands and it gave me goosebumps.
“He would have been far better than any of the Derby horses I rode. He had an electric turn of foot and after the Guineas he relaxed much more, he seemed to get that freshness out of him.”
This year’s 2000 Guineas may be a month later than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Fallon believes it will fail to stop last season’s champion two-year old Pinatubo from continuing to conquer all and extend his unbeaten run to seven.
Fallon said: “It is never a one-horse race as we saw the year Night Of Thunder won, as a lot of horses are running there for a reason, but if Pinatubo has trained on he is the one to beat as he has the form in the book.
“He did race a lot last year and at the highest level, but he was very impressive in all of his races.
“He is laid back and that gives him every chance of training on. He is a handy horse and we know he handles the track and undulations.”