The six-times champion jockey Kieren Fallon returns to the saddle today after an 18-month ban for drug abuse.
He will be restored to public scrutiny at Lingfield this afternoon much as he left it — in the gluttonous gaze of the cameras.
But the last time the world tried to read these same pale features, supposedly in a moment of relief and vindication outside the Old Bailey, none perceived the latent despair.
Few, then, will presume to know the scope or substance of this latest renewal. As he acknowledges himself: “It is my last shot.”
Admiration for his riding, and regard for his fortitude, together ensure that the sport Kieren Fallon bestrode six times as champion jockey will salute his return to a British racecourse for the first time in more than three years. But no flashbulb, no snap judgement, can disclose a man whose strengths and frailties are woven in the complexity of genius.
At 44, one of the great jockeys returns in the knowledge that his pomp has been squandered through ill luck, and worse judgement. No cat has ever consumed eight lives quite so unequivocally.
Ultimately his reunion with an old ally, Sir Michael Stoute, proved productive. Simply by exercising horses every morning, back on the Newmarket gallops, Fallon has kept his eye on the ball as a rider.
He spent a month at a Betty Ford clinic in Palm Springs. As a condition of his return to the fold, he has since agreed to frequent, random drug tests by the regulators, likewise to undergo psychotherapy. He has kept himself in physical trim, too. It is already clear that trainers are prepared to endorse all these efforts. If he proves as good as ever, that should cover a multitude of sins.
“I've changed,” Fallon insists. “I'm happy, mentally and physically better than where I left off.”
He is even trying to forget his bitterness over those who police the sport. As he memorably observes: “There's no point letting them live rent-free in your head.”
The prodigal returns with a severe haircut — gone are those lawless locks, flowing under his helmet. The austerity of his look makes that slowly spreading smile even more of a relief than before. He can hardly have shed every insecurity. When he enters the changing room at Lingfield, he expects to feel like a nervous boy on his first day at school.
But it is on horseback that he has always found tranquillity. To that extent, you can hardly say his exile ends today. At his best, as at his worst, Fallon will always be something of an exile.