The shock defection of the hot ante-post favourite, One Man, just 45 minutes before the race may have made his task easier, but that mattered not a jot to the Irishman. "I kept dreaming of this all yesterday evening," he said, "and then I'd tell myself not to be so silly. But this game is all about dreams, and this is simply the best day of my life."
Gallagher, who had some near misses in the big-time last season - notably on the Gold Cup runner-up, Dubacilla - was given the ride on Couldnt Be Better after the eight-year-old's trainer Charlie Brooks decided that the stable's first-choice jockey, Graham Bradley, should ride his other runner, Black Humour. And Gallagher read the race perfectly, stalking the leader Rough Quest throughout the second circuit and delaying his challenge until just before the last fence.
More than an inch of rain overnight and during the day reduced the going to a mud-bath, and as a trial of class the three-and-a-quarter mile chase lost much of its interest when Gordon Richards pulled out his Gold Cup prospect, One Man, because of the deteriorating conditions. But as a spectacle it lacked nothing.
Jamie Osborne took the race to his rivals as he kicked Rough Quest into a clear lead passing the winning post on the first circuit, and the gelding's exuberant jumping down the back stretch was a pleasure to watch. But the writing was on the wall as Couldnt Be Better loomed up behind him on the turn into the straight. Gallagher said: "When he cleared the second-last by 10 feet I knew I still had plenty of horse under me, and after the last he just powered away."
Rough Quest hung on to second place from Superior Finish, who was followed in by Grange Brake, Earth Summit and Monsieur Le Cure. Black Humour was among those who pulled up.
Brooks's delight in Couldnt Be Better's victory was tempered by his guilt at displacing Bradley. The Lambourn trainer, lame after having three terylene implants in a knee on Friday, said: "I thought he would be the better rider for Black Humour, and the object was to give both horses the best chance. Brad was the first to congratulate Dean. He's a great team player."
Gallagher endorsed that opinion. He said: "He sat me down for two hours on Friday night with some videos of the horse, and told me exactly how to ride him." Despite his sterling performance, Couldnt Be Better remains among the Gold Cup outsiders at this stage. Of more significance yesterday was Merry Gale's easy win at Punchestown, and the Irish gelding is now a firm second favourite for the championship.
Gordon Richards thought long and hard before sending One Man the 278 miles back to Penrith. He said: "It was a heartbreaking decision to make but I was not prepared to risk a horse I have so many hopes for. It would have been a hard slog round and I can't help remembering that the going was heavy when he fell at Kempton in the Racing Post Chase earlier this year." One Man remains on course for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, and Richards plans to get a run into him before then, probably the Edward Hanmer Chase at Haydock Park on Wednesday week.
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