NZ debut for Irish comeback jockey

Irish jockey Paul Gallagher, pictured in winning form in England, is set to make a comeback at Rotorua on Wednesday.

It may only be a maiden race at a minor midweek meeting, but it’s a big deal for Paul Gallagher making his comeback to race-riding with his first New Zealand ride at Rotorua on Wednesday.

Gallagher has been booked to ride the promising Tough Kid for Cambridge trainer Shaune Ritchie in the Mills Reef Winery 1100 and, though he’s a new name for New Zealand racing fans, the 32-year-old has international experience on his side, albeit best known for his deeds as a jumps jockey.

The Irishman has had bigger assignments as a rider, having enjoyed success in England, Ireland and Australia and he has also ridden in the famous Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree.  But he has been out of the race day saddle for two and a half years since competing in Victoria and South Australia.

“I don’t think I’ve been as excited to be riding in a race,” Gallagher said.

“It’ll be great to be back riding and I’ve got a good chance. Tough Kid has good form and he’ll have blinkers on for the first time at Rotorua. Hopefully I can kick off with a winner over here.”

Gallagher was enticed to come to New Zealand by his brother, Fergus, who has been working for Cambridge trainer Tony Pike for two and a half years.

“Tony gave me a job, too, and I’ve been here since the end of September. He told me that if I got my weight down he’d give me opportunities.

“I’ve been riding work and at the trials for him and also had trials rides for Shaune Ritchie, Brendan Hawtin and Stephen Marsh.

“Ï’ve had about 25 trials rides and, though riding over jumps has been my bread and butter and that’s what I love most, I’ll be concentrating on getting as many flat rides as I can before winter.”

Those trials rides include a win at Waipa on the Pike-trained Rippa Eagle, who has gone on to win his last two starts including his promotion from second at Ellerslie on Sunday.

Gallagher comes from a racing background with his brother Mark being a flat jockey in Ireland with international experience and his other two brothers also riders, while his father has been a foreman for a top Irish stable for many years.

Gallagher began his career as a jockey in Ireland with the legendary Dessie Hughes then shifted to England and teamed up successfully with Howard Johnson.

He won on his first ride at Aintree for Johnson and his CV includes two Aintree Festival winners and a Cheltenham winner. His most successful season was 2010-11 season with 26 winners when attached to the Johnson stable.

“I rode over 120 winners in England and three or four in Ireland,” he said.

Gallagher shifted to Australia in 2012 and his main success came in 2015 when taking the Grand National Steeples (3500m) at Morphettville on the Eric Musgrove-trained Urban Explorer and the Grand National Hurdles at Warrnambool on King Of Dudes for Aaron Purcell.

Gallagher rode 16 winners in Australia before returning to Ireland and he says he’s determined to take every opportunity in his comeback with Dean Williams enlisted as his agent.

“I’ve never been in a better head-space and I’m loving it over here,” he said.

“I’ve always had plenty of family support, especially from my girlfriend Sally, who came over with me. I wouldn’t be here without her.

“I just want to get back out there and ride winners again.”