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 at Rotorua tomorrow.
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 2 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 2 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, Brendon Hawtin and Stephen Marsh.
"I'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.
NZ Racing Desk