Golden moment for Geraghty
Jockey's faith in Bobs Worth pays off handsomely, writes John O'Brien
WHEN he woke early yesterday morning in his home in Co Meath, Barry Geraghty flashed the first of many smiles that day. A bright sun was shining and the forecast was favourable for the rest of the day. The word from Leopardstown was that the ground would have improved by racetime. Just what the jockey wanted to hear. He lay back and tried to think of reasons why Bobs Worth might not win the Lexus Chase that afternoon. For once, though, Geraghty came up short.
The faith Geraghty has in last year's Gold Cup winner is formidable. Five weeks ago, Bobs Worth trailed in a dismal sixth behind Cue Card on his reappearance in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and, in a sport where snap judgments trade as hard currency, some were tempted to assume his best days were already behind him. Geraghty didn't share their despondency, sensing it was nothing more than a short-term blip.
"We felt, on the day, the ground was too soft on a track that was too sharp," Geraghty said afterwards. "And he wasn't as fit that day as he was today. That's how it turned out. I wasn't panicking on the day in Haydock. I remember saying that to Nicky [Henderson] afterwards. You could see the logic in why he was beaten."
Geraghty cradled his youngest daughter, Orla, as he spoke, Siofra close by on his other side. For the jockey, there was something poignant about the celebrations after Bobs Worth had galloped on resolutely to deprive First Lieutenant of victory. Since joining Henderson as stable jockey in 2008, he has enjoyed many great days but not as many as he would like in front of his own people. In winning on a horse he had bought for €16,500 as a yearling at a track he loves, Geraghty was ticking a number of important boxes.
"For me this is right up there," he said. "I've been fortunate to ride great horses in England but since Moscow Flyer and Kicking King, I haven't had as much quality here. It's brilliant to ride big winners here. As a kid this was always my favourite racetrack. To have Paula here with the kids and in front of this crowd makes it that bit more special."
It seems strange to suggest a Gold Cup winner should have something to prove so soon after the Festival, but yesterday offered confirmation that this small, tidy horse is something special indeed. It never perturbed Geraghty that Bobs Worth might not have received all the accolades he deserved. "He does an impersonation of workmanlike," Geraghty said. "But he has lots of class. And lots of speed too."
On occasion, Bobs Worth has displayed a tendency to switch off during races, but no lack of concentration off a steady pace was discernible yesterday. Turning for home, the field was still tightly bunched, maybe suggesting a sub-standard renewal, but those fears were scotched when Ruby Walsh burst clear on Rubi Ball and only First Lieutenant and Bobs Worth looked capable of chasing him down. Sir Des Champs, on a recovery mission after a Punchestown fall, wasn't at all disgraced in fourth.
The day belonged to Bobs Worth, a worthy champion, and, in many ways, a testament to Geraghty's craft and intelligence. It was, Henderson explained, at the jockey's insistence that they followed the Lexus route rather than aim for the more obvious Argento Chase at Cheltenham at the end of January. A decision that turned out to be beautifully inspired.
"Initially I was waiting for the Argento," Henderson said. "But as Barry said, if it came up soft or heavy, then you've only six weeks to Cheltenham. He was dead right. He said, 'I promise you the ground would be better here than it would be in Cheltenham'. If it came up heavy for the Argento, then what do you do? Better to have the race now surely."
The relief etched on Henderson's face told a strange Christmas story, reminding you how long a single day can sometimes be in racing. Yesterday the trainer had left Kempton in disconsolate form, having watched Geraghty pull up his stable star, Sprinter Sacre, which had been subsequently diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, not necessarily a career-threatening setback, but a cruel and savage blow at the same time.
We approach these major festivals already half-resigned to the certainty that the big stables will maintain a vice-like grip on them, Willie Mullins this side of the water, Henderson on the other. But racing's capacity to humble even the gods of the sport never fails to surprise. By yesterday morning two days of Christmas Festival racing had passed and neither Mullins nor Henderson had left an indelible imprint. Now they are back in their rightful place, on top of the racing world.
"Two days ago Corky [Henderson's head lad Andrew 'Corky' Browne] and I were happy to stay at home," Henderson laughed. The storms were
raging and there was talk of no planes leaving runways and ferries staying moored in their harbours. Henderson was of a mind not to travel.
"For God sake," he thought. "I can do without this. And then yesterday! It was as deflating as you can get. Another day is another dollar as they say."
Mullins had some hard thinking to do himself. Two moderate days by his standards had passed and he wondered where the winners were going to come from. "Things were going a bit upside down," he said. "But when we looked at it, we couldn't say the horses were running back. Things just didn't pan out right for us in races. Maybe we got tactics wrong in one or two. But you can only learn from that."
Yesterday normal service was resumed. He was out of luck in the Lexus, as he has been every year he has run horses in it, but so much else fell into his grasp. He won the opening maiden hurdle with Sure Reef and after watching Faugheen enhance his considerable reputation at Limerick, he then added the Grade One Christmas Hurdle with the remarkable Zaidpour and saw Djakadam, a hugely exciting four-year-old chaser, sluice up in the beginners' chase.
"One or two hairy jumps early on," Mullins reflected, "but fantastic after that. He's a natural with great scope for chasing. After the winning post Ruby couldn't even pull him up. That tells me there's a huge amount left in the tank. He looks a nice sort for a four-year-old to come out round here and do that against horses who cost a fair few quid I imagine."
The day belonged to Geraghty and Bobs Worth, though. As he made his way back to the enclosure, the jockey still beaming, you watched Mouse Morris, trainer of the runner-up, make his way around the back of the parade ring to offer his congratulations to Henderson. On his day, First Lieutenant is a very useful horse, not so far off the best, but Morris had few complaints. "He ran up to his mark," he said. "[Bobs Worth] has beaten him before."
And Morris knew -- like most of the strong 17,000 crowd that had witnessed a very good Lexus renewal -- that his fine horse had been beaten by a worthy champion. Yesterday offered further and conclusive proof of that.