Barry Geraghty brought down the curtain on a glittering career in the saddle last night with the Meath jockey admitting that he wanted to go out on his own terms "rather than being stretchered off".
Geraghty was in sensational form at this year's Cheltenham Festival with five winners throughout the week at the Cotswolds and it was a fitting finale after it looked like his final years on the track would be spoiled by career-threatening injuries.
The 40-year-old has had more setbacks in the past five years than most have in their lifetime and he couldn't refuse the opportunity to walk away unscathed having pondered his decision during lockdown.
"I’m 41 in September and you can’t go on forever. I’ve missed 18 months of the last five years through injury, having broken both legs, both arms, my ribs, shoulder blade and a few other small fractures in between," Geraghty wrote in his Sporting Index blog.
"The eight broken ribs and punctured lung in 2017 ruled me out of Cheltenham, and then the broken arm at Fairyhouse in April only 11 days after returning from the broken ribs were both tough injuries with bad timing.
"My last injury, the leg break on the eve of the 2019 Grand National at Aintree, was a real test and hard to take, it made me appreciate the importance of getting back into a scenario where I could go out on my own terms rather than being stretchered off.
"It’s not easy to come back from those injuries, but I knew that if I could I had a chance of going out on my own terms, so I discussed it with my wife, Paula, and put that plan in my head early last season."
The Pelletstown native admitted that he knew heading to Cheltenham that it would be his last time to ride at 'the Olympics of jumps racing' but that second thoughts have crossed his mind in the four months that followed.
"I knew going into Cheltenham that it was going to be my last one, and that’s probably why I showed more emotion at the meeting than I had done in donkey’s years. I needed to get a winner badly and Epatante gave me the dream start in the Champion Hurdle," he said.
"Then to go on and ride winners for the boss (JP McManus) on Dame De Compagnie, Champ, Sire Du Berlais, and being able to make my last ever ride at a Cheltenham Festival a winning one, with Saint Roi in the County Hurdle, I couldn’t have asked to sign off on a better note.
"We considered calling it a day then, but I would have been sick to be on the sidelines if Aintree, Fairyhouse or Punchestown went ahead.
"As things have worked out, we’ve ended up with another three or four months to think things through and that’s helped me to confirm the decision that I want to call time on my career as a jockey.
"I’ve been able to take stock of everything, relax, enjoy the time off with Paula and our kids Síofra, Órla and Rían, and it’s given me a taste of what might lie ahead.
"Not having to be stuck on the roads, in and out of airports and just living life at a steadier pace has been nice. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had some second thoughts, though, particularly after such a great Cheltenham, but I’m settled on it now and pleased with what I’m doing.
"I’m going to miss the buzz for sure. You can’t replace the thrill of riding horses like Epatante and Defi Du Seuil, but that’s just part of life and I’m going to have to enjoy watching them from the stands."
A phone conversation with owner JP McManus – who Geraghty partnered with after AP McCoy's retirement in 2015 and for whom he rode a host of big winners in those famous green and gold silks – helped to confirm the decision.
Avoiding regular commutes to England, spending more time with his young family and being able to let loose at the dinner table on Christmas Day are just some of the perks which lie ahead for Geraghty after a star-studded career.
"I’ve always kept a good few young horses here at home and I’ll keep busy working with those. I've done a lot of media work over the years which I enjoy. I’m going to be able to spend a lot more time with the family, and I'm already looking forward to Christmas Dinner!" he said.
"I’ve pretty much been a part-time dad for the last 12 years, where I’ve had to commute to and from England 7-8 months of the year, so it will be great to be at home more often, spending more time with Paula and the kids.
"It will be a big change but I’m at that time in my life where it feels like the right call to make. I still very much want to be involved in racing and, although the buzz of race riding is irreplaceable, I’ll need to try and get some fulfilment by working with horses, whether it be here at home or riding out at yards, so I’ll definitely be doing a bit of that."
So many trainers played a pivotal part in his career from Noel Meade to Tom Taaffe, Edward O'Grady to Nicky Henderson but Geraghty has no hesitation in admitting that his association with Jessica Harrington and Moscow Flyer springboarded his career.
"To get on a horse like Moscow Flyer when I was just 20 years old and be taken right to the very top was a huge break. Jessie and Moscow made my career and I owe them so much,” Geraghty said.
"Looking back on the greatest horses I’ve ever ridden, I’m still stuck in a dead-heat between Moscow and Sprinter Sacre - they’re two of the best two-mile chasers of all time.
"Sprinter oozed class and could destroy a field, while Moscow would beat a top horse by two lengths and an average horse by two lengths - nothing was going to beat him as long as I stayed on him and he stayed on his feet."
Despite that pair standing tall as the greatest horses he has ridden, Geraghty nominated his Aintree Grand National victory aboard the Jimmy Mangan-trained Monty's Pass in 2003 as the crowning glory of a career that will go down in the annals of racing history.
"Calling time on my career wouldn’t have been easy if I didn’t have that win aboard Monty’s Pass on my CV," he said.
"Wherever you go in the world, if somebody asks you what you do for a living, the next question they often ask is: ‘Have you ridden in the Grand National?’ It’s an amazing race and to win it was a feeling like nothing else."