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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Barry Geraghty on Cheltenham, Sprinter Sacre and Spongebob Squarepants

by Aidan Elder | March 8, 2012

Barry Geraghty

It takes a lot to give Ruby Walsh even a tinge of greenish envy. But few jockeys will arrive at Cheltenham 2012 with more of a spring in their step than Barry Geraghty (pictured above). He has a high calibre book of rides only likely to by surpassed by his great rival Ruby. And there promises to be a couple of times during the Festival when even having the combined power of the Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins teams behind him, Ruby could be looking over his shoulder … or trying to catch up.

Barry Geraghty

One of the leading jockeys in the history of Cheltenham despite his relative youth, Geraghty (32) has already claimed each of Cheltenham’s championship race and sits fourth on the list of most successful jockeys at the Festival. But the Meath man doesn’t give the impression of somebody about to take his foot off the throttle. All those victories will make a lovely scrapbook and some thrilling tales to tell in future years, but for the moment his mind is firmly focussed on more Cheltenham success. His determination to see Sprinter Sacre fulfil his immense potential is obvious. That was where Over The Line began our exclusive Cheltenham chat as Geraghty visited Power Tower this week.

OTL: After Paddy Power announced our Arkle Chase Money-Back Special, Ruby Walsh tweeted to say it was a great reason to have a bet on Al Ferof. Does Al Ferof have any chance of beating you in the Arkle?
BG: He has to be respected, he’s a high class horse, but from what Sprinter Sacre has done this year, especially from what we saw at Kempton and at Newbury; if he reproduces that form and jumps as well as he did on those occasions, my fella will be very hard to beat.

You recently described Sprinter Sacre as being a ‘bit of a handful’ in the way a lot of top horses can be. Would you have any concerns about his temperament?
No, he’s got a very good temperament. He was very fresh in Newbury the last day. He hadn’t run for seven weeks and that was a lot of the reason he ran with so much zest so you could say. His previous run at Kempton when he’d had a three week break before that, he was very settled and very calm, so I’m hoping for a performance very similar to that at Cheltenham.

In what way is Sprinter Sacre a handful?
He’s just a horse that’s very onward. He likes to attack his fences and he wants to go a gear quicker than ideally I would want to him to go. Temperament wise though, he’s good. He’s a very calm horse. He wouldn’t be in any way boisterous. He’s a good ride, but he might just light up in the odd occasion.

What sort of a chance would you give Burton Port in the Gold Cup if someone was looking to oppose Long Run and Kauto Star?
Burton Port has a great chance. He ran a good race at Newbury the last time and he should improve and awful lot for it. He has good course form, he was second in the RSA Chase two years ago, but he seems to be showing more pace at home this year’s and that’s going to help. If he can lie up and hold his position, for that reason, he’ll come home well. He’s a massive each way chance and hopefully he can upset the big two.

Nicky Henderson has expressed concerns about the ‘bounce factor’ after that run at Newbury and he may not be able to reproduce that form – is that a worry for you?
It would be a concern, but he didn’t have a hard race in Newbury so I’d hope it was only about the same amount of work as he’d do on a hard morning’s work at home. He didn’t have a tough race and for that reason I’d be hoping he won’t bounce.

Owner, Dai Walters says he thinks Oscar Whisky will give Big Buck’s the “toughest race of his life” in the World Hurdle. Will he get the three miles and what are his chances of overturning the champ?
I don’t see any reason why he won’t get the three miles. He seems a good stayer, he gets two and half well, he’s bred to stay, he was third in a Champion Hurdle so he has the class. He’s probably the best horse to have taken on Big Buck’s since he won his first World Hurdle crown. I would be hopeful he’ll get the trip and he’ll be good enough to beat Big Buck’s, but a lot will depend on how it goes on the day.

What sort of tactics will you look at using?
We can’t really give away the A game, can we? You can take that we won’t be making the running. We’ll take our time and ride a nice race and see how it unfolds, but we’re keeping the tactics in house at the minute.

Finian’s Rainbow in the Champion Chase – does he have much of a chance of upsetting Sizing Europe or Big Zeb?
He has a good chance. He hasn’t really fulfilled his potential this year, but I’ve sat of him recently and he seems in good form and I’m just hoping that he’s turned the corner. Sizing Europe will take a lot of beating and Big Zeb will be a lot closer than he was at Punchestown the last day, given the better ground we’re going to have for the Festival. I think he’ll run a good race, but whether or not he’ll be good enough to beat Sizing Europe and Big Zeb, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m very hopeful.

What are you best horses outside of the championship races?
Fortunately I’ve some great rides this year. Bob’s Worth who won there last year will go for the RSA Chase. He seems to have improved a good bit from his run in the Reynoldstown Chase in Ascot. He had a wind operation after Christmas and as a result his work was delayed and he just wasn’t as fit as we would have liked. He went three for three over hurdles at Cheltenham last year so he handles the track really well and I’d be pretty hopeful of a big run from him. Riverside Theatre won the Ascot Chase after being off for 12 months, he goes for the Ryanair Chase. He’d be near enough favourite and he’s got a big chance, but it’s a wide open race with not a lot between the top five or six in the betting. Simonsig was recently confirmed for the Neptune Investments Novices’ Hurdle and he’s definitely got a big chance. He’s a really good horse and he’s improved no end all season and I think the trip is ideal for him. He will take beating.

Which of your rides would you advise punters to put their hard-earned tenners on for a bit of value?
Burton Port. He should improve from his run in Newbury and you’ll get a good price, especially with a question mark over Kauto Star. Long Run is just coming into himself and Cheltenham brings out the best in him. He’s gonna be hard to beat, but Burton Port is a solid each way chance.

Cheltenham

The week of the Cheltenham Festival is notoriously intense for jockeys and punters alike, albeit for vastly differing reasons. Being one of the most senior and identifiable faces in the weighing room, Geraghty gets more attention than most, but does he ever manage to get some free time during the goldfish bowl of Festival week?

How do you relax of an evening at the Festival?
If I’m not doing a light weight the next day, I’ll make dinner plans. Just go for a bite to eat with friends and relax and hit the hay early.

Do you get many people coming up to you in general or do they leave you alone?
No, they won’t leave you alone, definitely not. You’ll be asked for tips and what do you fancy tomorrow and that. It’s a lot easier to try and give them a winner than to tell them you’re busy. It’s ok. That’s part and parcel of racing in general so you have to take it and it can be fun.

Would they offer to buy you a pint if you’d ridden a winner that day?
They’ll offer to buy you more than a pint if they’ve backed it! I wouldn’t be able to take them up on that offer.

When do you start thinking about the next day’s racing?
About a month before. As you’re riding your horses throughout the season you’re learning about them and the opposition. You’re building your case and deciding how you’re going to ride your horses come the big day so a lot of the homework and research is done already. It makes it easier come the week itself because it’s nearly second nature when you sit on the horse. You don’t do as much research because it’s been done all year.

How do you feel when you’re on board a hot favourite versus when you’re on a total outsider?
It’s a good complaint to be on a hot favourite and if you know you’re on the best horse in the race and you have full confidence and faith in his ability, you just want things to go smoothly. If things go smoothly, things fall into place easy enough. You’re obviously ultra-focussed for that week, especially on the short-priced favourites, but you’re more conscious that things go smooth – get them down to the start ok, keep them relaxed, get a nice position and once that tape goes up, you might as well be going around Fairyhouse or Plumpton because you’re just doing your job and trying to win your race as you would any other day of the week.

When things don’t go to plan, do you play things back in your head or move on and forget about it?
I’d definitely review things once or twice at least, but not on the day. I try to put it to the back if my mind because if you have other good rides on the day, you don’t want your judgment clouded and you want your head clear when you go out on the next one. That evening I might start kicking myself, but I’d leave it until then.

Geraghty has amassed an impressive tally of 20 Cheltenham Festival winners, putting him fourth on the list of all time winners behind AP McCoy, Arkle’s jockey Pat Taaffe and Ruby Walsh. His most successful year came in 2003 when he was the Festival’s leading jockey with five winners with his remarkable rides on Spirit Leader, Spectroscope, Youlneverwalkalone and Inching Closer driving them on to exhilarating victories. He also partnered the brilliant Moscow Flyer to multiple Festival triumphs, guided Kicking King to a Gold Cup and captured the Champion Hurdle and World Hurdle crowns along with a host of other Cheltenham wins.

Moscow Flyer

MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN… Barry on Moscow Flyer

What’s your favourite single moment at the Festival?
It’s hard to single one out. Everybody will always say their first Festival winner. Winning the Arkle on Moscow Flyer in 2002 was massive and then to come back the next and to ride five winners was huge, then to win a Gold Cup, they’re all great ones. The sweetest of all was Punjabi winning the Champion Hurdle at 28/1 or something. We were hopeful he’d run a big race but to win a three-way photo finish in a Champion Hurdle was definitely sweet.

What is the ride your most proud of?
Punjabi is the Champion Hurdle is the one I’d get most personal satisfaction out of.

Is there one ride from the Festival you’d like the chance to do again?
I rode Native Dara in the Coral Cup in 2000. He turned in travelling really well, so I decided to kick for touch and What’s Up Boys collared me in the last 20 yards so I was definitely disappointed. If I’d waited a little bit longer on him he might have won.

Is there any horse you’ve ridden that could be better than Moscow Flyer?
I’ve always said Moscow is the best I’ve ever ridden and I never thought I’d be lucky enough to have a horse to be even mentioned in the same sentence. Sprinter Sacre so far is shaping up to be as good as Moscow and only time will tell if he is better. I’m very hopeful for him and his future.

Technology has changed the world we live in and how we do things. Top athletes and sports personalities are now far more accessible to the public than at any time in the past. In the world of racing, it has particular implications. Online streaming, video upload websites make it easier to analyse and dissect performances of both horse and jockey, whilst the social media angle and makes it easier to criticise jockeys for perceived errors in the saddle. I asked Barry how he handles this aspect of the job, particularly in few of the difficulties he and his colleagues have had in dealing with the controversial changes to the whip rules.

How conscious are you of the changes to the whip rules, especially in a close finish?
It’s very difficult. Personally, I have a rule where I count to seven and I think I’ve had seven I stop and it’s cost me races. But each time I’ve got to seven, I’ve gone back in to watch the replay and actually counted eight, so in the heat of battle it’s very difficult. Being a more senior rider who has been to Cheltenham good few times and ridden some of the best winners there, it’s possibly easier for me to count than it would be for a lad coming there for his first Festival, maybe riding his first winner. I feel even more sorry for the younger lads.

Do you hear much of the praise or criticism from punters in today’s increasingly online world?
Definitely, you get a lot of that. You get some lovely comments which is always nice and mostly they are nice comments, but you get the odd one or two telling you what you should have done. Usually I’d have thought they’re wrong, so it’s water off a duck’s back.

Do you pay much attention to websites and comments left after reports about races you’ve been involved in?
I follow racing news mostly and keep up to date with results, but regards opinions – they’re a bit like arseholes, everyone has one.

With a pub, farm and family to balance along with the regular commutes between home and the racecourses of England, free time must be in short supply for the 32 year old Meath man. He does occasionally find some free time, but then it’s normally inadvertently reserved for a certain cartoon character.

What’s normally on TV in the Geraghty house?
Spongebob Squarepants is what’s on mostly these days. My six year old Siofra is a big fan of Spongebob so when I want to watch the replays, I’ll have to find a different TV or laptop.

Meath to win this year’s All Ireland, Ireland to win Euro 2012 or you to win another Gold Cup – what’s your pick?
Gold Cup is the pick for me, sorry lads. What Meath are doing lately and Ireland in the Euros, I think Burton Port has a better chance of coming up trumps.

Who’d be your fantasy Pub Quiz team-mates?
First up I’d have Tommy Tiernan for bit of fun and to give us a laugh. For glamour we might bring Rihanna, just so we could win ‘best turned out’. After that we might bring Ruby because he seems to know most things about most things and just in case it gets a little bit physical, he might cause most of the trouble, but we might bring Roy Keane along as well.

Is Banty the man to resurrect Meath football?
Well, the resurrection started a while ago and it’s still going. I’m hoping one day we can get back to where we were a few years ago. I live in hope.

DOWNLOAD BARRY’S CHELTENHAM TIPS HERE

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