Ger­aghty ends glittering ca­reer on his own terms

Chel­tenham fes­ti­val, where he rode 43 win­ners in all, proved a fitting fi­nal stage

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Sports - Brian O’Con­nor Rac­ing Cor­re­spon­dent Barry Ger­aghty factfile

The coro­n­avrius pan­demic in­ad­ver­tently sup­plied Barry Ger­aghty with an apt cue to bring the cur­tain down on one of the great ca­reers in mod­ern Ir­ish sport. When the 40-year-old for­mer cham­pion Na­tional Hunt jockey tweeted his re­tire­ment late on Satur­day night he hadn’t rid­den in al­most four months.

It’s over two weeks since jump rac­ing re­sumed be­hind closed doors in Ire­land due to Covid-19 but with­out one of its most fa­mous fig­ures.

So the record will al­ways be that Ger­aghty’s last win­ner was on the Wil­lie Mullins-trained Saint Roi for JP McManus in the County Hur­dle on the big­gest stage of all at the Chel­tenham fes­ti­val in March.

It’s an en­tirely fitting statis­tic for a man who over the course of two decades thrived on the big oc­ca­sion like few in the sport’s long his­tory.

Even among a peer­less gen­er­a­tion of rid­ing tal­ent Ger­aghty was dis­tinc­tive for the over­whelm­ing cool he brought to bear when the ten­sion was high­est.

He filled the boots of the great­est win­ning ma­chine of all when AP McCoy re­tired in 2015, be­com­ing No1 rider to owner JP McManus, yet was never go­ing to try and em­u­late McCoy’s manic drive for any sort of win­ner at any­time and any­where.

In­stead his thirst for the big win­ner on the big day echoed his con­tem­po­rary Ruby Walsh but with­out the as­ceti­cism the lat­ter seemed to cul­ti­vate at times. Ger­aghty’s pop­u­lar im­age was much more non­cha­lant. “Pres­sure is for tyres,” he once pro­claimed with a grin af­ter a big race vic­tory.

Easy charm

No one who has been crowned cham­pion jockey at 20, and 20 years later notches up five more Chel­tenham fes­ti­val win­ners, can sus­tain that suc­cess over such a pro­longed pe­riod in the tough­est game of all with­out gran­ite-like sub­stance.

But the pres­sures and in­evitable in­juries that come from rid­ing horses over ob­sta­cles usu­ally got car­ried off with easy charm.

If Ger­aghty never seemed to get dis­tracted from the job in hand to the ex­tent of an­other gilded con­tem­po­rary, Paul Car­berry,

Born: First Win­ner:

Septem­ber 16th, 1979 Sta­galier, Jan­uary 29, 1997 at Down Royal

1999-00 & 2003-04

Moscow Flyer 2002 Arkle Tro­phy

Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val Win­ners:

43 (sec­ond in all time list to Ruby Walsh)

1,920 (fourth to AP McCoy, Richard John­son & Ruby Walsh)

2003 and 2012

then nei­ther did the task of get­ting to the win­ning post in front ever seem like a grim busi­ness.

Per­haps it helped him be crowned RTÉ’s sports per­son of the year all of 17 years ago. That was af­ter hav­ing been lead­ing jockey at Chel­tenham in 2003 and also vic­to­ri­ous that year in the most fa­mous race of all, the Ain­tree Grand Na­tional, on Monty’s Pass.

“You see some fel­lahs af­ter they’ve been beaten and they’re ab­so­lutely gut­ted. We all get our dis­ap­point­ments but if it hap­pens, it hap­pens,” he once said.

The dan­ger of such per­spec­tive can be that it gets mis­taken for frivolity by the wit­less.

“What a lot of peo­ple don’t re­alise is how tough he is and how brave he was as a rider,” said Davy Rus­sell, the last ac­tive jockey of a golden gen­er­a­tion of Ir­ish rid­ers. “He was al­ways a good tough com­peti­tor but I didn’t re­alise un­til later in my ca­reer how tough he was. He is lit­er­ally made of iron.”

That can be cor­rect since the litany of in­juries ac­quired by top jump jock­eys means var­i­ous bones of­ten need knit­ting

Ain­tree Grand Na­tional:

Monty’s Pass (2003)

Chel­tenham Gold Cup:

Kick­ing King (2005) and Bobs Worth (2013)

Cham­pion Hur­dle:

Pun­jabi (2009) Jezki (2014) Bu­veur D’Air (2018) Epan­tante (2020)

Moscow Flyer (2003-05) Big Zeb (2010) Finian’s Rain­bow (2012) Sprinter Sacre (2013)

Cham­pion Chase:

King (2004-05)

Ir­ish Grand Na­tional:

Kick­ing

Shut­the­front­door (2014) to­gether. “I’ve missed 18 months of the last five years through in­jury, hav­ing bro­ken both legs, both arms, my ribs, shoul­der blade and a few other small frac­tures in be­tween,” Ger­aghty elab­o­rated yes­ter­day.

Some felt a bro­ken leg at last year’s Ain­tree Na­tional meet­ing was a timely re­tire­ment cue for some­one with most every­thing won and noth­ing left to prove. He was de­ter­mined how­ever to stop on his own terms.

Know­ing it would be his last Chel­tenham fes­ti­val, and know­ing too of per­sis­tent race­course whis­pers that he was “gone”, all that fa­mous big race sangfroid emerged for a hur­rah that turned out to be fi­nal.

Gett­ting it right

Epanante’s Cham­pion Hur­dle vic­tory was a mi­cro­cosm of that ca­pac­ity to get it right when it counted most, the McManus-owned mare ul­ti­mately sweep­ing through to win in style.

Later in that con­tentious week there was a jaw-drop­ping RSA Chase that saw Ger­aghty res­cue vic­tory from seem­ingly in­evitable de­feat on board Champ be­fore what proved to be his fi­nal fes­ti­val ride of all on Saint Roi.

Shortly af­ter­wards the much wider pub­lic health cri­sis meant rac­ing closed down like every­thing else.

How­ever as McCoy said yes­ter­day: “I’d imag­ine he might have liked to go out at Fairy­house, his lo­cal track, or Punchestow­n. But Chel­tenham was where he showed his true class and for him to go out af­ter rid­ing five win­ners there is the per­fect end­ing re­ally.”

Per­fect end­ings can’t be taken for granted. But once again Ger­aghty looks to have judged his run just about per­fectly.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAN SHERI­DAN/IN­PHO

■ Barry Ger­aghty cel­e­brates win­ning on­board Sire Du Ber­lais at this year’s Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val.

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