Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 18 November 2017

Barry Geraghty is the best insurance policy for JP

Lack of mistakes sets him apart as McManus seeks a replacement for McCoy

Barry Geraghty
Barry Geraghty

Ian McClean

When the President calls, you answer. JP McManus at some point in the future is likely to make a call to appoint a new jockey to fill the vacuous chasm left by AP McCoy's sudden announcement of his imminent retirement. Speculation as to McCoy's successor has inevitably been rife; Barry Geraghty is the bookies' instantly-nominated favourite; and some are actually wondering whether he would take the job if he were offered it. Like I said, when the President calls, you answer.

And so, as we approach the Oscars, if there was any lingering doubt about God being the ultimate scriptwriter, it was well and truly put to bed with McCoy winning his first and only Hennessy on his very last attempt with Carlingford Lough in the green, white and gold of his guv'nor at Leopardstown in front of the multitudes who had come to do him homage.

The void left by McCoy's departure will have deep, as yet unfathomed, ramifications all round within the sport and you would need one seriously smart algorithm to calculate the overall ripple effect of the loss, but there is little doubt that the disappearance of his Most Valuable Player is of most significant consequence to his patron and retainer, who has forfeited in a whisk not just his talisman, but the greatest jockey of all time.

In all the layer lists for possible replacements as the McManus No 1, I have yet to see a 'No Appointment' option. Yet it is not beyond the realm of possibility that one of the most familiar owners in the game could operate a 'Best Available' policy, at least in the short term to try it for size.

After all, JP was without a stable jockey for longer than he has been with one, taking his entire timespan of ownership into account. And while it is valuable to have a single go-to man when you have 300-plus horses in training, the volume is far more than one man can handle in any case. In addition, given JP's horses are spread so wide geographically, and with so many different trainers, it stands to reason that many are ridden by default by the yard's own retained rider where they have one in any case.

No, the main asset McCoy provides is not ubiquity for the every day, it is the certainty - and I use that word loosely - on the big day. The certainty not of winning, but of simply maximising the horse's chance. It is generally true that the best horse wins most races on most days. However, when the competition is red hot in the big races and major festivals, like all sport at the peak level, the margins are often far tighter. It is in those moments that jockeyship, a combination of strength, guile and judgement, becomes paramount. Being at your best when the situation is at its worst.

Certainly great jockeys are capable of epically extracting victory from the jaws of defeat - witness Wichita Lineman's victory at the 2009 Festival amongst a multitude of lesser examples over two decades from McCoy. More commonly, though, the great ones are equipped with what Deepak Chopra describes as "spontaneous right action". Just as the best referee makes just the right intervention in the right way at the right time throughout the 90 minutes and renders himself almost invisible, so the best jockeys silently and spontaneously adjust and adapt seamlessly throughout the ever-changing landscape of a race. In other words, they are gifted to intuitively do the right thing in a way that other jockeys are not.

Mr Mole and Carlingford Lough are copybook examples of just that last weekend. When Mr Mole whipped around at the start and lost 15 lengths, McCoy's incisive, split-second decision-making ensured that even if the start was lost, the race wasn't. Equally composed, if less pronounced, was the feat on Carlingford Lough. AP was almost out over his mount's ears with a juddering mistake at the second last, the very point at which the leaders began quickening and runners (all eight still in contention) were jockeying for valuable positions. Neither victories were in the Wichita Lineman box-office category, but many jockeys today would not have won on either, or both of those horses in the principle races last weekend.

By contrast we have witnessed Sam Twiston-Davies, as short as 3/1 to be champion jockey next year, get foxed on Vibrato Valtat and Zarkandar in major races this season. Not to be unkind to Twiston-Davies, who is half McCoy's age with a fraction of his experience, but the fact is that the very best just don't make mistakes - and that's precisely what their patrons are paying for.

If McCoy has one unspoken achievement in his career, it is the extent to which he has raised the standard of jockeyship and professionalism during his tenure. Along with McCoy, Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty are two of the greatest jockeys any of us have ever seen - in any generation. In concert with McCoy, both Walsh and Geraghty have the unique attribute of making as few mistakes in their races as is humanly possible. It is the single, critically elusive faculty that distinguished them from all their peers.

With McCoy exiting and Walsh already spoken for, it is little wonder the bookies have priced Geraghty at 1/6 as a replacement. After all, even if you didn't need Geraghty, wouldn't it be worth the insurance just to not have him riding against you?

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