Having received the acclaim of Cheltenham’s cauldron of a winner’s enclosure no fewer than 43 times in his 24-year career, Barry Geraghty seems to have decided that the announcement of his retirement could be a little more low-key. A simple tweet at 11pm on Saturday evening said “a bit thank you” to the family, friends and everyone who had supported him, adding “I’ve been blessed to have had a wonderful career and I’m looking to what the future holds.”
Geraghty, by any measure, was one of the finest of all National Hunt jockeys and his announcement means that all three of the outstanding big-race riders who dominated the Cheltenham Festival in the first two decades of the century – Geraghty, Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy – have now hung up their boots.
There were times, such as the spring of 2003 when a 23-year-old Geraghty won the first of two awards for the top rider at Cheltenham, when he seemed to have no equals in producing a flawless ride when it mattered most. Geraghty’s five winners that year – a double on Tuesday and Thursday with Moscow Flyer’s first Champion Chase on the middle day – equalled the record for a three-day Festival. Just over three weeks later, he landed the Grand National on Monty’s Pass.
Ranking a 1-2-3 where Walsh, McCoy and Geraghty are concerned is pointless, as all three riders contributed so much to so many great moments for National Hunt racing, and at Cheltenham in particular while the meeting continued to grow in scale and significance to become one of the country’s biggest sporting events.
A big thank you to my Family Friends and Everyone who has supported me over the last 24 years tonight I am happy to say I am announcing my retirement…. I’ve been blessed to have had a wonderful career and I’m looking to what the future holds….🎉🤩👍🏻 pic.twitter.com/UoD5HKfN3k
Walsh had more winners at the Festival, retiring last April with 59, while McCoy racked up 20 straight championships in Britain and more than 4,000 winners in all. But McCoy’s career total of 31 Festival winners is some way adrift of Geraghty’s 43, and his clear second place in the all-time list is unlikely to be challenged for many years to come.
The tallies reflect the fact that Walsh, thanks to his associations with Paul Nicholls and later the all-conquering Willie Mullins, was so often on the best horse in the race, while Geraghty, who played a major role in Nicky Henderson’s Festival renaissance before being signed as JP McManus’s retained jockey after McCoy’s retirement, was more likely to be aboard the second or third favourite.
Geraghty, in fact, was more dependable than Walsh when he got on a Cheltenham Festival favourite, with a 48% strike-rate on clear favourites from 2003 onwards. Walsh’s strike-rate on clear favourites over the same period was 41%. But while Geraghty rode 39 market leaders in that time, Walsh was aboard 86.
Geraghty had not been riding since jump racing resumed in Ireland last month and while the last mount of his exceptional career was pulled up at Uttoxeter on 14 March, his final ride at the Cheltenham Festival a day earlier was a winner (and favourite): Saint Roi, who landed a big gamble in the McManus colours in the County Hurdle.
He also retires as a winner of all four of the Cheltenham Festival’s feature events, having landed two Gold Cups, four Champion Hurdles, a joint-record five Champion Chases and two Stayers’ Hurdles. Away from Cheltenham and in addition to his Grand National success, he took the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day in 2004 and 2005 on Kicking King, while Moscow Flyer’s defeat of the favourite Azertyuiop (and Walsh) in an epic Tingle Creek at Sandown in 2004 is another outstanding memory.
There were, inevitably, some shocking injuries along the way, including a broken leg in a fall at Aintree in April 2019 which many thought might end his career there and then. Typically, he was not only back at Cheltenham four months ago, but in outstanding form with five winners including Epatante’s Champion Hurdle and denied a third top-rider award at the Festival only on countback.
And what was always clear, in addition to Geraghty’s abundant professionalism, race-riding instincts and horsemanship, was how much he enjoyed every moment of it. Some jockeys are mechanical in their post-race debriefs for the media, but when Geraghty talked you through his latest Grade One winner, he was always wreathed in smiles and bubbling with excitement. The Cheltenham Festival will miss him. Few, if any, riders did more to make it what it is today.