Geraghty is hungry for a taste of glory in Galway's big two
The heir to AP McCoy's crown tells Richard Forristal why he's on a mission to add this year's Hurdle and Plate to his long list of victories
Barry Geraghty has recently been appointed AP McCoy's successor in the position of retained rider to JP McManus.
He is a dual champion jockey who has won every major race during the height of the jumps season. In the coming years, he should add to his haul in the winter discipline's marquee events.
For the moment, though, it is two showpiece races that he hasn't conquered that top his list of outposts to claim. "Of the races that I haven't won," the 35-year-old Co Meath native says, "the Galway Hurdle and the Galway Plate are the two that I'd most like to knock off the list. No doubt. I've been very lucky to win most of the big races, but I have had no joy in the Hurdle or the Plate. I've hit the crossbar a few times in the Hurdle and was placed once in the Plate.
"There were never any hard luck stories, either. That's just how it goes. They are super-competitive handicaps that are not easily won. I have no complaints, though. You can't force it. It's either going to happen or it's not. Riding for JP now, I'd be hoping that it might improve my chances."
McManus has already helped his new number one get a similar monkey off his back. Little more than a year ago, Geraghty had yet to win an Irish Grand National, only for the sport's most devoted patron to finally enable him slay that ghost aboard the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Shutthefrontdoor.
As a local Ratoath boy, that was especially sweet for Geraghty, and it added fuel to speculation that he would one day succeed McCoy. Famous triumphs at Cheltenham a month earlier had the same effect, Geraghty excelling aboard Jezki in the Champion Hurdle and More Of That in the World Hurdle as McCoy was left to rue his loyalty to My Tent Or Yours and At Fishers Cross, respectively.
Now it will be Geraghty making those calls, running the risk of being left with egg on his face. Remember, McCoy chose wrongly when Mark Walsh won the Plate on Bob Lingo in 2012 and he could have opted for four others when he won on Carlingford Lough in 2013. Last year, when Thomas Edison secured McManus a first win in the Hurdle, McCoy had to choose between three.
When a jockey makes the right call, it can look all too straightforward. On the occasions that they get it wrong, there is added salt in the wound when the race is won by a horse that has been eschewed.
"All these meetings will take on a different look for me now," Geraghty admits, "but that's a situation that every jockey wants to be in. It's a fine problem to have. I'm looking forward to approaching the bigger meetings and having to make those decisions. I don't know exactly which horses will be running in the Plate or the Hurdle but hopefully we'll be in the mix."
Geraghty's abject record in the week's two features - from 15 rides in the Plate and 12 in the Hurdle - is in stark contrast to that of his reputation as one of an elite band of big-race kings.
This is a guy who has won a Grand National, two Gold Cups, two Champion Hurdles and five Champion Chases. He is four shy of a century of Grade One wins. By way of context, at the end of his entire stellar career, McCoy checked out with 84. Ruby Walsh is the only rider to have won more.
That is the realm within which Geraghty (left) exits. He is already one of the most decorated jump jockeys ever and now he is going into what is arguably his biggest job. That is slightly mindboggling.
It is like a third act. Act I was what you might term the Moscow Flyer years, when he rode on a freelance basis for the likes of Jessica Harrington, Jonjo O'Neill, Noel Meade, Edward O'Grady and Tom Taaffe. By trying to please them all, in the end he pleased none of them adequately.
Sure, he was always a go-to man, but, when the opportunity came around to ride for Nicky Henderson on a regular basis in 2008, it was a break that Geraghty needed. All of a sudden, he had an array of good horses at his disposal. He and Henderson had plundered the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown with Punjabi that spring, so, by the time Mick Fitzgerald retired, a seed had already been sown. Henderson and his new number one clicked from the get-go, and they scaled incredible heights together with horses of real calibre such as Bobs Worth and Sprinter Sacre. That was Act II.
As had been the case with Henderson, then, McManus's familiarity with the man he was retaining was doubtless key to the appointment. Geraghty is a jockey who excelled on the grandest of stages but, equally as important, he is an intelligent man who is mature, reliable and unlikely to do anything stupid.
After all, it is 12 years since Geraghty and McManus combined for a first Cheltenham win with Youlneverwalkalone and 11 years since he was crowned champion for a second time. He has been around the block and back. That is important, same as it was when McCoy got the gig.
It might have also helped that Walsh had set a precedent on both occasions, proving during his tenure with Nicholls that a blue-chip rider could live in Ireland and function as a stable jockey for a top English yard, and then demonstrating that walking away from the same outfit to base himself at home again doesn't have to constitute a wind-down.
Granted, Geraghty has two more kids now than he did when he took on the Henderson gig and he cited family time as part of his reason for swapping jobs, but there was only one available position that would have compelled him to sever his formal link with Henderson. It was the one that he was offered.
"It is a great opportunity," he admits. "It wasn't a decision I made lightly. Nicky and I had some great success together and I hope we will have more. As I said at the time, it was a win-win situation for me, but lifestyle is definitely the strongest factor in it. Paula and I had our third child recently. It's a busy house to be away from as much as I have been. The job with JP simply offers a better balance."
Having enjoyed a relatively injury-free spell for a number of years, Geraghty missed a crucial part of last season after a fracturing his shinbone in March. He then had to have a kidney stone removed on June 30, but still managed to resume riding a few days later. There is no doubt, though, that he is itching to get back to the cut-throat environment in which he thrives.
"I will certainly be hungry!" he quips. "Galway is the Cheltenham of the summer. There are only 16 races in the week that a jump jockey can ride in so you basically have three days' work spread over seven days. That means that even if it is only a maiden hurdle, everybody is desperate to win.
"It's a big summer festival so it is a big deal. It's a tight track and there is the hill at the finish, but that just makes it more of a challenge. That's why we put so much emphasis on winning at Cheltenham and it's the same at Galway - if you come out on top, you know you've done your job well."
Barry Geraghty factfile
Born: September 16, 1979
Home: Ratoath, Co Meath
Family: Married to Paula with three children
Lowest riding weight: 10st 6lb
First winner: Stagalier (Noel Meade), Down Royal, January 29, 1997
Career NH wins: 1,621 (1,115 in Ire, 506 in GB)
Winning-most NH jockeys of all time ranking: 6th
Grade One wins: 96
Cheltenham Festival record: 33 wins, unbroken winning sequence since 2002
Best Galway Hurdle rides: 2nd on Mutakarrim (2002) & 3rd on Dirar (2010 & 2011)
Best Galway Plate rides: 3rd on Jacksonslady (2013)