BARRY GERAGHTY achieved it all in racing and his thoughts on the upcoming Cheltenham Festival are fascinating.
The Meath rider rode over 1,900 winners and finished his career in a blaze of glory with five Cheltenham winners which left him the second most successful jumps jockey at Cheltenham with 43 winners.
Geraghty rode some of the greatest horses in the history of national hunt racing, including Moscow Flyer, Kicking King, Bobs Worth, and Sprinter Sacre who will go down as one of the greatest two-mile chasers in the history of the game.
In his magnificent autobiography True Colours, Geraghty gives such an honest account of the highs and lows of life in the saddle.
Despite winning all the big four Championship races at Cheltenham, the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers Hurdle, and Gold Cup, he rates the victory of Monty’s Pass for Jimmy Mangan as the highlight of his illustrious career.
“Growing up, the one race that every young jockey wants to win is the Aintree Grand National,” Geraghty said.
“Linking up with a gentleman and fantastic horseman like Jimmy was brilliant and the horse just gave you everything.
“It was just a very special occasion and the celebrations down in Conna were memorable. The whole community was behind the Mangans and it was a magical occasion.
“I was on a few days’ holidays in Ardmore a few years ago and we popped over and got a few photos taken with the kids and Monty’s Pass.
“There was no need for any big arrangement as we just arrived unannounced. But that is Jimmy Mangan who welcomes everyone at any time.”
The retirement of David Mullins was a shock to many, but his explanations have shone a light on the tougher aspects of racing.
The dieting, injuries, highs, and lows along the way.
“I’ve only realised it since I came out of the bubble really. For 30 years it’s been that constant drive for winners and since I’ve retired the pace of life is very different.
“A few weeks after retiring, the great jockey John Francome rang me telling me that there was certainly life after racing and that retiring from the saddle will bring so much more happiness to my life.
“Winning all those big races was brilliant, but there were some very low points along the way. I used to sit next to Kieran Kelly and when he died it really shook us all.
“One day you are sitting next to a lad at the races and the following day we were at his funeral.
“The same with winning the Gold Cup on Bobsworth. I just couldn’t celebrate as John Thomas McNamara was after having a horrific fall the day before and was lying on a hospital bed with life-threatening injuries.”
Geraghty has worked with all the great trainers in the country, including Noel Meath, Jessica Harrington, Tom Taffe, and the link to high-profile owner JP McManus and Nicky Henderson.
“All the trainers are very different really. In the early days I worked with Edward O’Grady and his horses always travelled beautifully in a race. Jessica Harrington could get so much improvement from a horse as she was a brilliant horse woman.
“Nicky Henderson always had his horses so fit and they were always well-schooled. Moscow Flyer and Sprinter Sacre were unbelievable horses and the performance of Moscow in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in 2004 was unbelievable.
“Moscow went four years unbeaten when he stayed on his feet. While Sprinter gave it all on every day he went out. They were two amazing horses but two very different types.”
All roads now lead to the Cheltenham Festival and going out at the top for any sportsmen is the ultimate way to finish.
The horseracing gods can sometimes interfere, but thankfully Geraghty got out by riding five winners which included a Champion Hurdle victory aboard Epatante for JP McManus and Nicky Henderson.
“It was a great way to finish and at the start of the week, I knew this was going to be my last Cheltenham as a jockey.
“Winning on Epatante was brilliant as Nicky had so much faith in the horse and following up with another four winners was magic.
“For a few weeks afterwards, I was mulling it around in my mind, but retiring was a very easy decision in the end.”
Looking ahead to Cheltenham the Irish have a really strong team heading over.
“The quality of the horses in the country at the moment is unreal and the Mullins team look very strong.
“Paul Townend rode so many Grade 1 winners over the weekend, so he’ll really be looking forward to the festival this year.
“The clash of Energumene and Shiskin in the Arkle is a real mouth-watering prospect and will really get the opening day off with a real bang.
“Honeysuckle put her hat in the ring with a brilliant performance last weekend but Epatante is a dangerous opponent.
“Nicky Henderson is a master at getting them right for the big day. The ground will have a massive bearing on those two clashes.
“Paisley Park might be better suited by the conditions at Cheltenham than Thyme Hill.
“Al Boum Photo is very hard to oppose in the Gold Cup as a number of the challengers fluffed their lines at the weekend. Zanahiyr looks to be the one for the Triumph Hurdle.”