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Barry Geraghty

Jezki was travelling well under Barry Geraghty on the run down the hill to the second last flight of hurdles in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle. Long-time leader Captain Cee Bee was beginning to weaken in front of him, and Ruby Walsh was looming up on his outside on Hurricane Fly. Decision time for Geraghty: twist or stick.

Stay where you are, and Ruby moves up on the outside, moves in towards the inside rail, blocks your clear path and you have to sit and suffer until you turn into the home straight, concede first run. Move up on the inside on the run to the second last, secure your place on the inside rail, and you probably end up in front sooner than you want.

These are the decisions that define top class jockeys. It is the ability to make the correct call in a fraction of a second while hurtling down a hill on an animal at 35 miles per hour that sets riders like Barry Geraghty apart. The judgement call in the middle of a race that can go unnoticed much more than the kitchen sink strength in a finish that is universally lauded.

Geraghty decided to twist.

“I thought that I had to get through before the second last,” he says. “Otherwise I would have been trapped, Ruby would have moved over to the rail. I knew I had the horse and I had the pace, so I just gave Jezki a bit of a squeeze, he moved forward nicely, and we got our position on the inside before the second last.”

The net result was that he wheeled around the home turn on the inside, saving ground, Hurricane Fly on his outside, and set sail for home. He had beaten off the reigning champ before they got to the final flight but, by then, a new challenger had emerged in the form of AP McCoy and My Tent Or Yours.

Jezki met the final flight in his stride and pinged it, while My Tent Or Yours clipped the top of it and faltered a little. It wasn’t anything major, but it was enough to hand a slender advantage to Jezki and, under that kitchen sink drive from Geraghty, it was an ever-diminishing advantage that he maintained all the way to the line.

“I knew that something was coming at me obviously, but I didn’t know that it was AP until about 50 yards from the line. I could see the browband, Nicky (Henderson) always puts a browband with the owner’s colours on his horses, and I could see the green and gold. It didn’t matter who it was though, I was just driving for the line!”

It wasn’t Geraghty’s first Champion Hurdle – Punjabi 2009 – but it was a sweet one. Not because he was riding the JP McManus horse that AP McCoy rejected (it was a tough call for AP, and he got it wrong by just a neck), but because Jezki is trained by Jessica Harrington. It is 12 years since Geraghty rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Arkle winner Moscow Flyer, trained by the same Jessica Harrington.

“It was massive to win it for Jessie. Johnny (Harrington) hasn’t been so well recently, so it was brilliant to be able to win it for them. I have been riding for Jessie since I was a teenager. It was great to win it for JP too. No owner does more for the game than JP. Everything he does, he does it for the right reasons, all for the good of racing.”

Wednesday’s RSA Chase win was probably hatched at Haydock in January. Geraghty rode O’Faolains Boy for the first time in that race at Haydock, but he never travelled through the race. Trainer Rebecca Curtis’ horses were struggling for form at the time, and O’Faolains Boy was struggling. Barry pulled him up in the back straight.

“You could have pressed on for another half-mile,” he says, “but what would have been the point? That’s how you set horses back. Better to pull him up early and save him for another day. It’s like taking a football player off after 65 or 70 minutes, you save him for the next game.”

Wednesday didn’t appear to be O’Faolains Boy’s day either. You would never have picked him out as a likely winner through the early part of the race.

“He wasn’t travelling, he wasn’t jumping, he was snatching at his fences. A horse jumped up into the back of me early on and I thought, I’m going to have to be getting out of the way soon. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had pulled off a hind shoe and twisted a front shoe.

“He kept at it though, and we came there on the outside of Smad Place in the home straight. I didn’t want to ask him at either of the final two fences, I just let him go and pop. I always thought that we’d get to him, it just took us longer to get past him than I thought it would. But it was great to win another RSA Chase.”

He had to wait in the wings for Thursday’s winner as well. If AP McCoy had a tough decision to make between My Tent Or Yours in the Champion Hurdle, he had an even tougher one between At Fisher’s Cross and More Of That in the World Hurdle. At Fisher’s Cross was the horse with the proven form, More Of That was the one with potential. McCoy chose At Fisher’s Cross, Geraghty rode More Of That. And won.

“It was a desperately difficult decision for AP, and I would have been delighted to have got the ride on either of the two horses, but I have really liked More Of That ever since he beat me in a handicap hurdle at Haydock last November. He shows very little at home, he keeps it all for the racecourse. He’s very like Bobs Worth or even Moscow Flyer in that way.”

The jockey took a pull at the second last flight in the World Hurdle. When you are taking a pull at the second last flight in a World Hurdle, you know you are on a live one.

“When Annie Power and Ruby came up alongside me in the home straight, I thought, ah here we go. But then she didn’t get by me, and I thought going to the last that if we jumped it well we would win.”

It is 10 years since Geraghty rode his only previous World Hurdle winner: Iris’s Gift, trained, like More Of That, by Jonjo O’Neill.

“Jonjo is fantastic. He’s great craic, but he’s also a great trainer, and he’s brilliant at Cheltenham.”

It was some week for Barry Geraghty. Bobs Worth was beaten in the Gold Cup on Friday, the ground was just too lively for him, but that did not detract from the rider’s week. Three winners, three Grade 1 winners, including a Champion Hurdle and a World Hurdle.

“It has been a tough week for many jockeys and, to be honest, I would have settled for one winner at that start of the week. If you had told me that I would have three winners, and that Bobs Worth wouldn’t be among them, I wouldn’t have believed you. I suppose if there was a highlight, it was Jezki. I have ridden him so much in the past. The Champion Hurdle is a fantastic race, it was great to win it again, and it was brilliant to win it for Jessie.”

ST 16th Mar