ONE by one the players quit the stage that once they graced as their own.

‘The Boss’ led the way, followed by Lester, then Liam and now another of those key operatives in Ballydoyle – Gerry Gallagher. Gerry passed away unexpectedly but peacefully at home on October 29th. His funeral mass and burial took place in Rosegreen, Co Tipperary, on November 1st.

The Newry native crossed the border for the first time when heading to what was to become his lifetime career.

So long had Gerry been key in his role as travelling head lad and later as chauffeur that his early career became forgotten. It was brought to life after many, many years by a reference in Vincent O’Brien – The Official Biography, written by Jacqueline O’Brien and Ivor Herbert and published in 2005.

The story describes how Vincent managed his transformation from foremost jumping trainer to an even higher flat racing career. It all began when rich American builder John McShain commissioned Vincent to buy him four yearlings at Doncaster Sales in September 1955. One of that carefully chosen quartet was a chesnut colt by Mossborough.

Whereas John McShain had initially intended those yearlings to race in America, Vincent persuaded him to leave the Mossborough colt in his care in Ballydoyle. Duly named Ballymoss, he was entered for both the Derby and the St Leger, on the off-chance, as Vincent put it in one of his frequent letters to his new patron.

Ballymoss debut

Ballymoss made his racecourse debut in the Lagan Plate over six furlongs at the Curragh on Saturday, July 31st, 1956. The going was officially ‘Firm’.

Vincent wrote his owner “a rushed letter to tell you that I was well pleased the way BALLYMOSS ran at the Curragh on Saturday. He had an easy race as he was just a little unfit. He showed plenty of speed for four furlongs, and he finished about halfway in a field of 22. He is not a bit worse for the race. Before running him again I will give him a month or five weeks to develop further.”

The authors go on to note that “the great horse, who would go on to win two classics, the King George at Ascot and the Arc, had been ridden for the only time by stableman and future travelling head lad Gerry Gallagher, and had started unfancied at 100/7.”

Gerry, who held a jockey’s licence under both codes for the first time in 1956, without ever having served an apprenticeship, had paved the way for stable jockey T.P. Burns, who partnered Ballymoss to win one and be placed in his other two outings as a two-year-old. T.P. deserted him in favour of odds-on Gladness in the Trigo Stakes at Leopardstown, to Jackie Power’s benefit.

T.P. was back in the saddle to win the Irish Derby and the St Leger at Doncaster. Serious injury cost him the mount as Ballymoss went on to win the Coronation Cup, Eclipse Stakes, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the hands of ‘Scobie’ Breasley in 1958. To have been the first man to have ridden the record-breaking stakes winner in colours would be enough for many a man. Gerry relinquished his licence at the end of 1963.

Sense of humour

Gerry’s quiet sense of humour came to the fore at York, where Vincent O’Brien and his coterie had the temerity to pit Roberto against John and Jean Hislop’s unbeaten, invincible Brigadier Gerard.

So hopeless was Roberto’s chance against the Brigadier, Lester Piggott had deserted his Derby winner for another mount. Seeing Gerry leading Roberto out onto the course on the morning of the race, Jean Hislop sneered: “At least we don’t have to lead our horse.” Gerry replied quietly: “I’m not letting this fellow go till three o’clock this afternoon!”

In the shocked aftermath of American ace Braulio Baeza making all on Roberto to vanquish the ‘invincible’ Brigadier, Jean Hislop could only exclaim: “Roberto must have been stung by a bee!”

As trusted travelling head lad Gerry Gallagher was in charge of all those champions to emerge from Ballydoyle – Sir Ivor, Nijinsky, The Minstrel, Alleged and Golden Fleece. As Gerry once observed: “If you went through the list of horses here and thought what we’d got, you’d never sleep at night.”

Perhaps the most emotive of all those missions concerned Royal Academy’s foray to Belmont Park for the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile, ridden by the recently rehabilitated Lester Piggott. Vincent opted not to travel. Gerry took on the boss’s role as well as his own. And the fairytale duly came to pass.