Racing: Gallagher back on natural high with Persian Waters

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The Independent Online

Two came in from the wilderness here yesterday, one man and a horse. And on a chill, grey afternoon at what would be a contender for Britain's least scenic racecourse, proceedings were warmed by the sheer, uncomplicated delight on the face of a rehabilitated Dean Gallagher after he rode his first winner in Britain for more than two years, and the blitzing display by the reconditioned Le Roi Miguel to take the afternoon's feature, the Peterborough Chase.

Two came in from the wilderness here yesterday, one man and a horse. And on a chill, grey afternoon at what would be a contender for Britain's least scenic racecourse, proceedings were warmed by the sheer, uncomplicated delight on the face of a rehabilitated Dean Gallagher after he rode his first winner in Britain for more than two years, and the blitzing display by the reconditioned Le Roi Miguel to take the afternoon's feature, the Peterborough Chase.

There was little need to ask Gallagher, who has resurrected his career with a France-based job after an 18-month ban for a second instance of drug abuse, which provided the greater thrill: the recreational properties of cocaine or riding a superb young jumper to victory in front of a receptive audience. The rider was given a rousing reception as he came in on Persian Waters after the two- and-a-half-mile novices' chase and, punching the air, was clearly on a maximum high.

Persian Waters is owned by Paul Green and trained by James Fanshawe, who provided Gallagher with a lifeline in the shape of a win in the 2002 Champion Hurdle on Hors La Loi III after his first fall from grace. "I just can't say how happy I am and what this means to me," Gallagher said, "to ride a winner back here in England, and for the old firm. This is a big day for me. I'm just thrilled to bits." The 35-year-old came back to the saddle in August as first jockey to François Doumen and has made a considerable mark in France, with 16 winners there. Yesterday's success was his first in Britain on his second visit to ride since scoring on Hit Royal at Market Rasen in September 2002.

Persian Waters, making his fencing debut at the age of eight after 18 months off because of physical problems, leapt his rivals silly. Particularly, his extravagant showboating, ears-pricked bound over the ditch in front of the stands drew a gasp of admiration from the watchers. "He jumped for fun," said Gallagher, "a bit big if anything."

An hour later came another performance with the wow factor. The season before last, the Paul Nicholls-trained Le Roi Miguel was one of the best of the two-mile novices, but the French-bred's second campaign over fences was compromised by an inability to breathe properly. Close-season surgery, however, has demonstrably restored Le Roi Miguel's engine to perfect working order.

Under Ruby Walsh, the six-year-old tracked the pace set by Enzo De Baune in yesterday's two-and-a-half mile Grade Two contest and then slipstreamed Hand Inn Hand and Farmer Jack as they detached themselves from the pack before the turn to the final straight. Two fences from home Walsh pressed the turbo boost, and even he was surprised by the result as Le Roi Miguel powered 20 lengths clear. "I thought he'd win, but not quite like that," said the Irishman. "He galloped every step of the way to the line, and past it too. And he's good over a fence, too."

The gelding is likely to be seen next in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, a race in which he fell last year at the final obstacle after running out of puff. "If they can't breathe, then they can't jump," said Nicholls, "but he was travelling best of all into the straight in last year's King George. He's a year older now, and stronger, and the surgery has helped. He's a really proper horse."

Last year's King George winner, Edredon Bleu, four times successful in the Peter-borough Chase, was a late withdrawal yesterday because of the sodden ground. His trainer, Henrietta Knight, reported star stablemate Best Mate to be in fine fettle after his narrow seasonal debut success at Exeter on Friday. "He's well and fresh," she said, "and looked pleased with himself as he trotted up the yard."

At Aintree, Forest Gunner, winner of last year's Foxhunters around part of the Grand National course, once again showed his liking for the unique fences by making all to take the Grand Sefton Chase. This afternoon another course specialist, the National hero Amberleigh House, returns to his favourite arena in the Becher Chase.

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