Cheltenham - At The Races

Barry Geraghty’s top five Festival moments

    Star jockey Barry Geraghty shortlists a quintet of Cheltenham Festival victories from the 36 he’s chalked up so far in his glittering career.

MOSCOW FLYER, ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY (2002)

Any jockey will always hold their first win at the Cheltenham Festival very dearly and for mine to come on a legend like MOSCOW FLYER makes it all the more memorable.

He had won three Grade 1 races over hurdles and was expected to be a very good chaser, but he fell in two of his first five runs over fences and was going into Cheltenham off the back of a fall in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown.

That created a bit of uncertainty about him for the Arkle, but he was still considered one of the main Irish hopes on the first day.

You have to remember that this was back in the days of a three-day Cheltenham Festival and there weren’t as many Irish horses winning at that time as there is now.

Like-A-Butterfly had just about won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle for the Irish in the first and Moscow was the big hope in what was the second race, so all of that just added to the buzz of it.

Going into it, while plenty had doubts about him, I felt he’d win with a clear round. With the exception of the fourth-last he jumped well through the race and as usual he only did as much as he needed to when he got the front.

The atmosphere in the closing stages and afterwards was unbelievable. As a jockey you dream what your first Cheltenham Festival winner would be like and winning on Moscow Flyer exceeded all of those expectations for me. I’ll never forget it.

MOSCOW FLYER, QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE (2003)

After winning the Arkle Challenge Trophy the year before, you’d always have hoped that MOSCOW FLYER would make a smooth transition into open company and be tough to beat in the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year, but they have to go and do it.

He had his chance to show he was up to that level in the Tingle Creek earlier that season, but he was taken out of the race in a freak incident, so in the minds of many he still had to prove it by the time he got to Cheltenham.

To be honest, I didn’t share those doubts and I thought it was a case of if he put in a clear round of jumping, he’d win.

On the day, he was really good and it was plain sailing in truth. He was never a horse that was going to win a long way and it’s fair to say he didn’t overly exert himself on the day despite winning by seven lengths.

He was a real Irish banker that year and was already one of the more popular horses in National Hunt racing, so he got a brilliant reception again which always makes these wins even greater than they already are.

It was also my first time to win one of the big feature races at the Cheltenham Festival and that also stays with you too.

While some might assume that his second Champion Chase at the age of 11 might have been more memorable than his first, that wouldn’t be the case for him.

The second time, he had already seen off the young pretenders in Well Chief and Azertyuiop in a brilliant Tingle Creek earlier that season, so he just had to uphold that form.

The first time he won it, he was breaking new ground and that made it more special to me at least.

BOBS WORTH, GOLD CUP (2013)

To win a race like the Gold Cup will always be a career highlight, but BOBS WORTH winning it was that bit more special on a couple of different levels.

Myself and my brother Norman bought him as a yearling and had him for two-and-a-half years until Nicky bought him off us when he was a four-year-old.

It was a real thrill to be there with him all the way up through the ranks and to win an Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and RSA Chase on him, but the Gold Cup is the pinnacle of our sport and for him to win that was just unbelievable.

As he often did, he seemed to be struggling at a couple of different stages, but he was just so strong in the very late stages of those races at Cheltenham and he was very powerful up the run-in in the Gold Cup. It was a very competitive Gold Cup going into it, so that made it all the better.

In truth though, the really poignant thing about it for me that it was the day after John Thomas McNamara had his fall. That had just flattened all of us.

In a way, it made the victory a bit hollow, as for all that it was brilliant in so many ways, it all seemed insignificant after what had happened John Thomas.

That’s where our thoughts were. It was a day of really mixed emotions, but one that I will never forget.

JEZKI, CHAMPION HURDLE (2014)

JEZKI was a horse that I always really rated, but I didn’t feel he had got the recognition he deserved.

That season he had been beaten by Hurricane Fly a couple of times and was written off by many on that basis, but I just think he always struggled on testing ground in Ireland, including on those two occasions.

The ground came right for him in the Champion Hurdle and I was very sweet on him because of that.

It might have seemed a bit mad to fancy him at the time as it looked a proper race with Hurricane Fly, My Tent Or Yours, The New One and Our Conor, but I really did think he could improve on the better ground.

The race went really well for us and he was very brave to see off My Tent Or Yours by a neck in a great finish.

On a personal level, it was brilliant to win a Champion Hurdle for both JP and Jessie, but it was particularly moving to win it for Johnny Harrington.

Johnny was battling cancer at the time and passed away a few weeks later, so to win a big one for both him and Jessie who had been such big supporters of mine over the years meant an awful lot.

MORE OF THAT, WORLD HURDLE (2014)

Sometimes it’s the ones that weren’t necessarily expected to win that manage to win big races that are the most memorable and that was the case with MORE OF THAT in the World Hurdle.

Annie Power was one of the bankers of the week for many and was considered a good thing, but More Of That had quietly made his way up the ranks.

AP choose to ride At Fishers Cross, which is why I got the spare on More Of That. The fact he was the second string for JP took the spotlight off him even more.

Both More Of That and Annie Power dropped in and we squared up to each other from the turn in. There was no hiding place, it was a fair fight and after a great scrap my fella just pulled out more in the finish.

It didn’t give me any pleasure to beat a big Irish banker like Annie Power, but beating the odds in any big race is always very sweet. It was a good race that year too with Big Buck's and Zarkandar in there as well as Annie Power and At Fishers Cross.

He was a horse that maybe never quite fulfilled his potential, but on that day what he did was special.