Barry Geraghty ‘dangerously optimistic’ over his chances of Cheltenham success
IT IS no bad thing for a man who has already won jumping’s foremost seat-of-the-pants race, the Sportingbet Champion Chase, four times to describe himself as ‘dangerously optimistic’ but that, Barry Geraghty admitted, is his default setting. “I only ever look at the positives,” he explained.
Geraghty, 33, now in his fifth season as stable jockey to Nicky Henderson, is also one of a triumvirate of jockeys riding – the others are AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh – to have won jump racing’s holy trinity of Grand National (Monty’s Pass), Gold Cup (Kicking King) and Champion Hurdle (Punjabi).
This week at Cheltenham he will sling his leg over, among others, the two most exciting chasers in the country, Sprinter Sacre in a bid for another Champion Chase, the equally electrifying novice Simonsig in the Racing Post Arkle as well as the less flashy but reliable Bobs Worth in the Betfred Gold Cup.
In racing, optimism and realism are not mutually exclusive frames of mind and Geraghty admits that Sprinter Sacre has not yet accomplished a 10th of what the popular Moscow Flyer, the horse that set him on the road to stardom, achieved.
In a four-season unbeaten spell his 19 victories were only punctuated by Fs and Us. Last season, 10 years after Moscow Flyer won the Arkle, Sprinter Sacre won the same race.
“He’s a young horse and we’re all dreaming about the heights he might attain,” said Geraghty.
“To break the course record in last year’s Game Spirit at Newbury, a novice against seasoned chasers, is a benchmark in itself. That was special for a novice. He’s the best I’ve ridden since Moscow and time will tell if he’s better.”
So what sets the seven-year-old apart? “Well, you will ride one horse that jumps brilliantly and another that might travel brilliantly. I’m talking at the top level. But it’s very rare you get the two. It’s like watching George Best on a ball.
"He was a complete natural. He had grace, athleticism and made everything look like it was going on in slow motion around him because he found it so easy. Sprinter’s the same.
“Moscow would travel well but he was careless. He had a tendency to lose concentration. I always felt Moscow was happy to live on the edge. It’s a good way for a two miler, you need a horse that will take a chance for you.
"When Moscow got to the front he would doss and he’d beat an average horse the same as he beat Azertyuiop (one and a half lengths) in the Tingle Creek.
“Sprinter has made very good horses look ordinary. He’s very measured at his fences. He knows where his feet are and there are a lot of horses that don’t.
"Five strides out just when you’re looking for your stride it might seem like you’ll meet it long but he has such a rangy stride you let out an inch of rein and he’ll meet it perfectly. In chasing, he is the closest thing to perfection.”
Simonsig is odds-on for this year’s Arkle. “The time for his last circuit in the Neptune last year was two seconds faster than the time it took them to go the same distance in the Champion Hurdle the day before and he was racing over two miles five furlongs.
"That backs up what he’s like at home. A week before Cheltenham last year I rode him, Finian’s Rainbow and Riverside Theatre in work and told Nicky that after riding Simonsig the other two both felt like four milers.
You couldn’t fault his two starts over fences so far.”
Commuting from County Meath to ride in Britain three days a week works well for Geraghty and the rewards were five winners at last year’s Festival. “The flights are so regular it’s easy,” he pointed out.
“After riding at Lingfield recently I was on a plane at Gatwick and back home with my wife Paula and the two girls in no time.
"I was home before Charlie Longsdon was and he’s hardly out in the sticks. Sitting on a plane reading a paper is no hardship.
“People ask if the travelling gets me down but it doesn’t. If you look at it in a negative light it’s bound to become harder.”
A straw poll among other jockeys as to the best businessman in the weighing room would conclude that the answer is probably Geraghty.
He has property on both sides of the Irish Sea, once owned a pub and, of course, has dabbled with selling horses of which the Gold Cup favourite Bobs Worth is one.
On paper it does not look a deal that would have the Dragons’ Den leaping blindly into pin-hooking. He bought him as a yearling for €16,000 in November 2006 and sold him, to Henderson, for 20,000 gns two years later.
“It was around the time of the financial crash in Ireland,” recalled the optimist whose pint is never half full, it’s always frothing over the sides.
“A lot of horses weren’t even fetching two thirds of what they originally cost. I considered I’d done well to get out with costs and expenses.
"When you sell them, you sell them and I was happy on the day. I’m glad he ended up with Nicky – I get a bonus every time he wins. And it would have been a lot harder to watch Ruby steering him.”
- Marcus Armytage, Telegraph.co.uk