THE incident-packed career of Ballinruan jockey Kieren Fallon came to an end this week, as it was announced that he is retiring and is suffering from depression.
Speaking to The Clare Champion on Tuesday, Turf Club medical officer Dr Adrian McGoldrick said, “He has significant depression. We are waiting to get him in for management of it and will just take it from there really.”
The depression has been affecting the 51-year-old for a long time, he added.
“It’s been going on at least three years, if not longer; possibly even dating back to the court case he had back in 2007. It’s fairly shocking but people can carry it for years. Kieren is one of the greatest jockeys of all time and it’s terrible that it just slipped through the net to a certain extent. But he’s a fine fellow; he will pick himself up and move on with his life. He has a lovely family in England. There is a lot of support within the industry as well. If you saw The Racing Post, there are comments from all his colleagues and that speaks volumes.”
There is evidence showing that jockeys are at a very high risk of depression, Dr McGoldrick says.
“There are stats that between 18 and 35 about 25% or 26% of the population will suffer from depression. Among elite athletes, it’s about 26% or 27%. A survey was carried out by Dr Sarah Jane Cullen and Dr Ciara Losty last year on 126 jockeys and 49% of jockeys had symptoms of depression, so certainly depression appears to be more common among jockeys. Perhaps it is related to the stress of the sport.”
He hopes that the publicity surrounding Fallon’s departure from racing will help others to be more open about depression.
“Mark Enright is a jockey who came out very openly about his depression about 15 months ago. It led to a lot of other jockeys coming out about it. I think Kieren speaking about it will not only be beneficial for him but will be beneficial for a lot of other people. The fact that a high-profile jockey has the courage to come out and be open about it says a lot about the man and it’ll be good for a lot of other people too.”
Trainer Aidan O’Brien paid tribute to Fallon’s talent and wished him well.
“Kieren was an exceptional jockey and we had many, many great days together. I thought he gave Holy Roman Emperor some unbelievable rides and how could you forget the day he won the Arc on Dylan Thomas. He was brilliant that day. The day he won the Eclipse on Oratorio stands out too.
“If I was to describe Kieren in one word it would be ‘exceptional’. He was an exceptional talent. We’d like to wish him all the best in the future and will help in any way we can.”
Scariff man Pat Jones is an old friend of Fallon’s and he said he has been battling his demons for some time.
“The man hasn’t been well for a couple of years. He was an absolute genius on a horse and the amount of good he has done for people will never be known. He has done so much good for people behind the scenes.”
Pat said that Fallon had shown huge resilience in the past to overcome obstacles in his career.
“I remember when he got injured at Ascot. Six months later, he couldn’t put his hand in his pocket and it was his left arm, which was his strong arm driving a horse. He came over to Ger Hartmann, who gave him great time but, before that, the amount of pain he went through, no-one else would have come back from that injury. He was so lucky not to lose his arm that time. He overcame a lot. He got a lot of bad publicity and maybe he drew some of it on himself but, at the same time, he went through hell.”
He said Fallon had a massive talent.
“As Michael Stoute said during the week, he got horses to run faster than they thought they could themselves. He was so good to judge the pace of a race and so strong in a finish. He knew his horses and nine times out of 10, he would have them in the right position. Just a great jockey; he is up there with Piggott, Pat Eddery, the whole lot of them.”
By Owen Ryan