Cieren Fallon is the ultimate local boy done good. Here the top jockey reveals to Nick Seddon why he loves Haydock Park, names the Wigan Warriors players he counts among his friends and explains why he never got into racing as a child despite having a legendary rider for a father.
Horseracing isn’t really a thing in Wigan. It may seem like a strange thing to say about a town that has racing practically on its doorstep, with Haydock Park just six miles away, but this is a place that will always be synonymous for its affinity with Rugby League.
Thanks to the exploits of both its football and rugby sides over the years, Wigan has built up a reputation of a town that punches well above its weight in a sporting context, so it’s perhaps fitting that its latest prodigy has a rather remarkable story to tell in his own right.
He is by no means the only Wiganer in the saddle at the moment – the five-time Group One winner Tom Eaves also hails from the town – but Cieren Fallon’s route to the weighing room is more unorthodox than you’d expect for a son of the legendary six-time champion jockey Kieren Fallon.
Indeed, horseracing never really entered the mind of Fallon during his early years and having moved to Wigan with his mother at a young age, Fallon didn’t even sit on a horse until his late teenage years – a remarkable feat considering he would go on to ride a Group One winner no more than five years later.
“I had zero interest in racing growing up and I just enjoyed playing all sport really,” he said. “I played football and rugby and did running - there’s no horseracing up in Wigan really so there was just no interest.
“I don’t know what it was that got me into it, but at around the age of 18 I just thought ‘why not, I’ve done every other sport and not this’ – so I gave that sport a go as well! I was 17 or 18 the first time I sat on a horse.”
Racing clearly flows in Fallon’s blood but so does Rugby League, so much so that you can hear the passion in his voice as the conversation moves to his beloved Wigan Warriors – who he has watched religiously with his family from a young age.
“I’m a big Warriors fan,” he said. “It runs in the family, my mum’s a huge fan and we used to go to every game growing up. I played league myself when I was younger but I’m just too small!
“I still follow them now and some of my mates play for the club, so it’s nice. I’m mates with Sam Halsall, Morgan Smithies, Umyla Hanley and Amir Bourouh and it’s great watching them all play for Wigan.
“I don’t get a chance to go to many games anymore, but if I’m at home I’ll be watching and if I’m not I’ll be checking the score in the weighing room!”
Rugby League has traditionally struggled to engage anyone from outside of the north of England, but Fallon’s passion for the sport is clear to see as he reminisces about his memories of the club, which range from attending Wigan’s thrilling victory over the Warrington Wolves in the 2013 Grand Final to his admiration for club captain Thomas Leuluai.
He said: “He’s been there a long time now and he’s just so tough and consistently plays well. He’s a true out and out professional and he’s someone you’ve got to look up to.”
Fallon seems to pick his role models well and when the conversation turns to racing, he’s quick to point out how valuable a mentor his father has been to him over the past few years.
He said: “I couldn’t get anyone better. He just tells me things as they are and I’m very lucky to have him. He’s constantly giving me good advice and I’m just lucky to be able to have him.
“I’ve also got my jockey coach Michael Hills. I ride out with him at William Haggas’ yard and he’s has helped me with everything - even off the track with other little things - so he’s been a big part of my career as well.”
The advice seems to be paying off, as Fallon made the breakthrough at the highest level at just 22 last year when winning the Group One Darley July Cup at Newmarket on Oxted. It was a partnership that Fallon was handed while he was still an apprentice and he is very quick to express his gratitude to those involved with the horse for propelling his career into the stratosphere.
He explained: “I was very lucky to find him as a 3lbs claimer. He’s what everyone dreams of and I can’t thank (trainer) Roger Teal enough for the support.
“I missed his first two runs this season through injury and then COVID, so to get the call up again for Royal Ascot (when successful in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes) was massive and to get the job done and repay them like that was incredible. Hopefully it shows that when you are loyal and show faith to your jockeys it pays off and thankfully it paid off for us that day.”
It’s fitting that Fallon has found his match in the sprinting division, as it gives him a live chance of scratching perhaps his biggest itch – riding a Group One winner at his local track Haydock Park.
It’s somewhere that the jockey has quickly fallen in love with and although injury has ruled out a bid with Oxted this year, Fallon is hopeful of a tilt down the line.
He said: “I love riding at Haydock. My mates try and come if they can and my family come along and it’s like being at home. It’s good to see everyone and going up to Haydock feels like a family affair!
“I’ve got a lot of fans up there and it was the scene of my first ever big race win in the Old Borough Cup for Ian Williams on Time To Study when I was still a 5lbs claimer.
“Riding a Group One winner at my home track is what we all dream of and it’s gutting to lose Oxted for the rest of the season. Hopefully we’ve still got a few years left with him yet and we can tick the race off.”
It would be folly to bet against him.