‘Respect that hill – don’t be in a rush to take it on’: Cheltenham Festival insight from former top jockey Barry Geraghty

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  • If anyone knows a thing or two about riding Cheltenham Festival winners, it’s Barry Geraghty. The great jump jockey retired in 2020 with 1,920 winners to his name, 43 of which came at the annual Cheltenham extravaganza where he rode a string of big name winners including Bobs Worth, Sprinter Sacre and Moscow Flyer, in all four championship races – the Gold Cup, Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle.

    As he tells H&H racing editor Jennifer Donald on this week’s episode of The Horse & Hound Podcast, achieving success at Cheltenham “means more than any other winner”.

    “Riding at the Festival is much more intense because this is what the whole season is about,” says Barry. “There’s a lot at stake, on a personal level for any jockey, because they want success – it means more than any other winner – so the intensity is different.

    “You’re so focused on what you’re doing during each race because anything can happen. You have to expect the unexpected. If you’re not fully focussed on what you’re doing, you won’t be prepared to make that instant decision which could be left, right, up, down, pull, push, anything,” he adds.

    “You work on instincts and Cheltenham to me is an instinct track because it’s so challenging and so different – decisions are instant and if you’re not fully focussed on everything that’s going on around you, you won’t get those instinctive decisions right.

    “But you also learn from your defeats. Respect that hill and don’t be in a rush to take it on.”

    Barry will be returning as a spectator to Prestbury Park for this year’s Cheltenham Festival (15-18 March), having hung up his boots not long after riding an outstanding five winners at the 2020 event.

    “I’ve had a two-year detox from the Festival!” he says. “I’m experiencing racing from a very different place now than I have for the past 20-plus years.

    “This year, as a spectator, I’m so excited – but in a completely different way from when I was going there with fancied rides. There’s more expectation when you’re riding, there’s a level of anxiety, there’s a nervous tension, there’s pressure, there’s stress, but as a jockey you don’t recognise them because this is how you are. But as a spectator, you’re breezing in, you’re looking forward to the clashes – it’s a very different place.”

    Barry’s grandfather Laurence Geraghty bred the five-time Gold Cup winner Golden Miller and the Festival was a huge part of his childhood.

    Desert Orchid beating Yahoo would be one of my earliest Cheltenham memories,” says Barry. “My first ride there was in 1998 and I was hooked.”

    His first Festival winner came in the 2002 Arkle on the great Moscow Flyer, with whom he went on to win two Champion Chases at the Cheltenham Festival.

    “I had the luxury of saluting the crowd before I got to the line,” says Barry. “Any winner at Cheltenham is brilliant, but to break your duck in a race like the Arkle at the time was magical.

    “I was lucky to ride many great horses over the years,” he says. “Every race is special, but the Gold Cup is the monster of the week and if you can win that, you’ve bagged the big one.”

    Describing the feeling of crossing the finish line in front at Cheltenham, he adds: ‘The decibel level from two strides before the line to two strides after the line just goes through the roof.”

    • Hear more from Barry Geraghty as he talks about Sprinter Sacre, Moscow Flyer, the mistakes he learned from and the horse who could tempt him out of retirement on episode 93 of The Horse & Hound Podcast – listen here or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

    • You can read more about Barry’s memories of Moscow Flyer in next week’s issue of Horse & Hound, in the shops on Thursday, 17 March.

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