Gallagher executes a tall order

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The Independent Online
The way Charlie Brooks planned it, Dean Gallagher would tuck Couldnt Be Better in behind the pace until there was only one more fence to negotiate. ''In these conditions it was vital to delay the commitment,'' he said.

Gallagher obeyed the trainer exactly. Coming past the stands first time around he was comfortably in touch, more or less where Brooks wanted him. The leader, Rough Quest, was jumping so well it may have occurred to Gallagher that a decisive move was called for but he resisted the temptation.

After they turned into the straight Rough Quest's jockey, Jamie Osborne, probably sensed that he no longer held a winning advantage in the Hennessy Gold Cup. It had been a hard slog over three-and-a-quarter miles in driving rain and Couldnt Be Better was suddenly upsides and moving urgently. ''When he soared over the second-last, I knew there was still plenty under me, and after the last he powered away,'' Gallagher said.

In a sodden winner's enclosure you could reflect on the vagaries of racing. Even before One Man, the favourite, was withdrawn on the advice of his trainer, Gordon Richards, just 45 minutes before the race, Brooks believed in Couldnt Be Better but he could not set aside persistent doubts about the gelding's stamina and the challenge of his other entry, Black Humour.

This resulted in a big disappointment for Graham Bradley, the stable jockey, who was sent out on Black Humour but in common with the breed he was philosphical when splashing by to the weighing room. ''What a bollocks,'' Bradley said with a smile on his mud-spattered face.

It was hardly that for the 26-year-old Gallagher who had the best day of his life in the saddle after some disappointments of his own, most obviously in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last year when he finished second on Dubacilla. ''I kept telling myself not to dream about this,'' he said, ''but that's what this game is all about.''

After hours of driving rain that fell over a bleak winter landscape, Newbury was begining to resemble a swamp but you could imagine that Gallagher barely noticed. He stood beaming in the drizzle, happily answering all that was put to him.

Something similar can be said about Brooks who was still feeling pain from a knee operation a couple of days previously. ''It doesn't feel so sore right now,'' he said, a cap pulled low down over his hairline.

Nobody could be sure that Brooks had been fully instrumental in the choice of mounts for Bradley but he claimed responsibility. ''I wanted to give both horses the best possible chance,'' he said, ''and thought Brad would get the best out of Black Humour.''

When conditions grew steadily worse, the downpour unrelenting, Brooks may have thought less of Couldnt Be Better's chances which was a view expressed generally about One Man's connections on the announcement of his defection.

In view of difficulties imposed by a change in the going a substantial case could be made for not risking the favourite, but as one disgruntled punter put it, racing is kept alive by the audience. ''I don't think I wouldhave come out on a day like this if I'd thought One Man might not be going,'' he said.

Gordon Richards felt justified in giving priority to One Man's welfare and long-term prospects first but this did not make him popular around the betting windows. ''This is not just any old handicap,'' somebody else said. ''It's one of the big races, so once again the punters suffer.''

Gallagher was oblivious to the controversy and how things might have turned out with One Man and Young Hustler, who was also withdrawn, in the field. He'd got the ride and things had gone swimmingly.