‘You start to ride a winner or two and you start to get the bug again’

The Flat season is not long under way but already, Mark Gallagher is making a claim to providing one of the outstanding narratives of the campaign.

‘You start to ride a winner or two and you start to get the bug again’

The Flat season is not long under way but already, Mark Gallagher is making a claim to providing one of the outstanding narratives of the campaign.

Many regular racegoers wondered who he was as his name began to appear more regularly towards the latter end of 2018.

From September to December, the Kildare native booted in five winners and people began to cock an eyebrow.

He has carried on that form into this year, with his four winners arriving in the last three weeks.

Even more significant is the uptake in his services, with 57 rides already in comparison to 101 for all of last year.

So who is this young gun finding favour with Johnny Feane, Eddie Harty, and Kieran Cotter among others?

Meet Mark Gallagher, who far from being a neophyte, is a 50-year-old grizzled veteran of the thrills and spills of horse racing.

He was actually retired four years ago and pursuing a path towards training.

But somehow, after more than half a lifetime building a career and life primarily in Asia, he found himself back in Ireland a little over two years ago.

One thing led to another and he was riding his first winner on native shores on Major Reward for Feane at Dundalk on September 28, although there had been more than 1,000 overall in India, Singapore, Macau, and England.

Gallagher is steeped in racing. His father Robbie worked with legendary trainer Paddy ‘Darkie’ Prendergast and then his son Kevin, before moving onto Michael Halford’s, where he was travelling head lad for many years and remains an important part of the team.

Robbie’s brother Tom also served his apprenticeship with Prendergast Snr and became Dermot Weld’s head lad.

Tom’s son Dean is a former Champion Hurdle-winning jockey who also enjoyed a successful career in France.

He is now a work rider with Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle.

Gallagher’s own route to riding winners back home has been circuitous, having stints with Kevin Prendergast, where Kieren Fallon and Charlie Swan were contemporaries, John Murphy and Jim Bolger before crossing the water.

“I was riding as an apprentice in England but it was very hard to get a break. I went there because it was even harder in Ireland. There just weren’t the opportunities so when I was 20, I left and went to Macau.

“I did five years in Macau and then I went to India. I was there for a long period. From India I ended up going to Singapore.

“I rode there for four and a half years and I was working there as an assistant (trainer) for another year and a half.

“It was never the plan to spend so long (in Asia). It is just the way it ended up. I went to Macau and settled in well there. I actually loved India and loved racing there.

“You were getting the opportunities and you were actually someone. I ended up getting a retained job in India. I was riding for great people. I was riding good horses.

“I spent the best part of my career in India but I always wanted to get to Singapore. There is a high profile, a lot of Australians, Americans. It took me quite a while. I applied three or four times before I actually got a two-month licence. I got it extended and luckily got four-and-a-half years out of it. A great place to live.”

He was champion twice in India, and won a number of Classics and Group 1s. Singapore was fruitful too but eventually the grind became too much and he began looking beyond race-riding.

“I had actually retired from racing. I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I should have been. I said maybe it was time to change scenery a little bit, and go down the training side of it.”

He linked up with Brian Dean but after 18 months, the Australian decamped to Korea and there was nothing left for Gallagher but to return home until something else came up. He had every intention of going back to Singapore.

“I came back home and my weight was good and I just started riding again. It took a bit of time to get going. You are getting dribs and drabs, bits and bobs going along. But it wasn’t until the back end of last year that I joined Johnny Feane. Then he got me going and he has been very good to me ever since.

“A few people like Dennis Cullen, Peter Mooney, Darren Bunyan, they were great to me at the start. They stood by me through thick and then.

“I had a few winners at the back end of last year and I was kept busy every week. It was great, I built up a bit of a rapport with a couple of trainers. I moved on from there.

“I couldn’t believe the start to this year. I actually won on a filly for Eddie Harty, Paved Princess in November, and she got me going again a few weeks ago. Eddie asked me to come around start sitting on a few of his Flat horses and I got on a few nice ones.”

The best to date though came with the 10-length success of George Cornelius on the all-weather last Sunday.

What made it all the sweeter was that Gallagher bought him along with Danny Murphy for English owner Stuart Robinson, and has been bringing him along under the stewardship of trainer, Kieran Cotter.

“It was freakish really what he done. We thought he would win but we didn’t expect him to do what he did (on Sunday). We didn’t expect him to be so impressive. We really hadn’t stoked him up at home.

“Whatever he done was on pure ability. There is a lot to come from him yet.

“I have been doing a bit of buying and selling for a few clients in Singapore previously. And I came to meet this owner through a friend of mine, in Singapore. Just in passing he said: ‘I would be interested if you could try and find me a nice yearling.’ I said I would do my best, and that was it, that is how it fell into place.

“I know Kieran quite well. He has a lovely set-up. When we bought (George Cornelius), we actually gave him and a couple of others to Ian McCarthy to break in and he did an absolute fantastic job. He is very good at what he does.

“He had them for two months and then when they were ready to move on, Kieran’s wasn’t too far from Ian’s. Danny Murphy is a close friend of mine and he is involved with Kieran so we decided to keep the horses there with Kieran, and Danny was overlooking them as well. It was just every one of us together. It is a nice little set-up. It is something to look forward to.

“You couldn’t write the script. To be involved in buying him for a client and then to move onto where we are today, it has been great especially when you buy them and they go on and do what they do. You really get a lot of satisfaction out of that. It’s great when they prove you right.”

Cotter and Harty will be sending out a couple of further two-year-olds that “have plenty of ability” he hopes but it is the time of year when they are all machines and anything is possible.

It is very evident that Gallagher is perfectly aware of how fortunate he is to be harbouring such dreams and is intent on making the very best of his Indian summer.

“This time last year I was struggling to get one ride every two weeks. A year down the line, how things can change. I can’t believe how things have gone for the last four or five months.

“My agent Ruaidhri Tierney has been absolutely super, very supportive along with the trainers I mentioned. I will always ride for the ones that got me going again, I won’t forget them.

“I have been in the game a while now. You learn to just to keep the head down, and not let things get to you and just keep batting away. I always say it will fall into place. It you just don’t let it get to you and keep working and working away, hopefully, things fall into place. You just need to get on that one horse and it makes a lot of difference.

“Last year I got up on Major Award. You start to ride a winner or two and you start to get the bug again. You begin to enjoy it again. It has been great, getting on a few good horses. You get very enthusiastic and you can start to dream again.”

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