Barry Geraghty has called time on his glittering career in the saddle aged 40 after riding 121 Grade 1 winners and five years as retained rider to leading Irish owner JP McManus.
Tributes flooded in after more than two decades as a jockey. During that time, Geraghty was stable jockey first to Jessica Harrington in the Emerald Isle and Nicky Henderson in the UK.
When Sir Tony McCoy called time on his own career, McManus turned to Geraghty to ride his best British horses. He bowed out still showing plenty in big races with five Cheltenham Festival victories in March.
While Geraghty’s career haul at that meeting ends on 43, some way behind Ruby Walsh, he was clear second best. McManus is again looking for a retainer rider, so who could fill the void.
It is a demanding job with pressure. Many bookies fear McManus runners in big betting handicaps, and with good reason.
The famous green and gold hooped silks were in the Cheltenham winners’ enclosure for all four Festival handicap hurdles with graded status this year.
Geraghty rode three of those this past season: Dame De Compagnie for old boss Henderson in Coral Cup, Gordon Elliott stayer Sire Du Berlais for a successful defence of the Pertemps Final, and Saint Roi in the County Hurdle for Willie Mullins.
These are the kind of mounts the next retained rider to McManus can look forward to. There is also Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Champ after his remarkable RSA victory and Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante, both in Henderson’s stable.
The question is who replaces Geraghty as the man McManus turns to for when the National Hunt season begins in earnest this autumn? Here are some of the possible options.
As retained rider to McManus in Ireland, Mark Walsh heads the market with bookmakers on getting the job in Britain.
Walsh didn’t go without Cheltenham Festival success in the green and gold himself this spring. He partnered Aramax for Elliott in the juvenile handicap hurdle race best known as the Fred Winter.
There was also a Festival second aboard Fakir D’oudairies in the Arkle. Walsh disappointed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard leading Gigginstown House Stud owned fancy Delta Work, however.
Geraghty was still the go-to guy for major rides on either side of the Irish Sea, though. Whether his retirement results in the promotion of Walsh remains to be seen.
At 34, there are still a similar number of years left in him to Geraghty. McManus may want a longer term appointment as his retained rider, though.
Walsh won seven Grade 1s in Britain and Ireland in the calendar year of 2019, but many of those came when Geraghty was out injured with a broken leg or riding elsewhere. A Champion Hurdle win on the ill-fated Espoir D’allen is a career highlight.
McManus has so many horses in training that one jockey cannot do the job in two countries. It may be that connections prefer to keep Walsh in the Emerald Isle and look for someone with more regular race experience in the UK.
Slightly younger than Walsh is fellow Irish jockey Aidan Coleman. He has often deputised for Geraghty or ridden the McManus second string in British races.
Coleman, who turns 32 in August, has fewer Grade 1 successes on his CV but gets far fewer opportunities. His association with Emma Lavelle star stayer Paisley Park finally aw him record elite wins.
Those came in the 2018 Long Walk at Ascot and 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Coleman has since tasted further Grade 1 glory on Henry De Bromhead mare Put The Kettle On in the Arkle, where they beat Walsh on Fakir D’oudairies.
Henderson has always been more than happy to have him ride McManus horses in Geraghty’s absence. Coleman parterned Epatante to her Listed reappearance win the Gerry Feilden at Newbury last December.
That set her on her way to Champion Hurdle glory, albeit with Geraghty back aboard. McManus and racing manager Frank Berry may decide to reward the patience showed by Coleman with the job.
Jonjo O’Neill Junior
Father Jonjo senior trained 2010 Grand National winner Don’t Push It for McManus, so there are family ties there. Jonjo O’Neill Junior has already picked up rides for this owner, so he’s making the right connections already.
The vacancy as retained rider to McManus does come up a little early in his career, but could be made with a long-term view. Jonjo Junior got the leg up on Native River when Richard Johnson was injured and scored the Denman Chase at Newbury.
That was a pressure ride on a high-profile staying chaser. These are exactly the kind of mounts McManus has on both sides of the Irish Sea, so that helps Jonjo Junior’s case.
He does lack experience of riding at the premier jumps tracks in Britain, but you could say the same thing about Gigginstown’s retained rider Jack Kennedy in Ireland when he got that job.
As last season’s champion conditional, 22-year-old Jonjo Junior still has his whole riding career in front of him. He wants to kick on and the best way of doing that is by learning his craft further with decent horses.
Jonjo senior probably doesn’t have the ammunition to help him with that. Jonjo Junior has been riding for Colin Tizzard, but that association may end if McManus comes calling and William Hill go 4/1 about that.
Nico de Boinville
McManus hired one Henderson stable jockey, so why not another? Nico de Boinville stepped up when Geraghty left Seven Barrows and, although not Irish, has had plenty of big days since.
As pilot of Altior, De Boinville has one of the best National Hunt horses of recent times to thank for putting him on the map. If there is one criticism of him, then you don’t see Nico winning many handicaps.
He is a big race rider and that is what McManus needs. De Boinville had that before McCoy’s retirement when landing the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard the novice Coneygree.
The maverick Might Bite is another staying chaser that gave him great days as well as a few scares. De Boinville is synonymous with recent success in one of the few Cheltenham Festival races to elude McManus, the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Could he get Fakir D’oudairies to win on that grand stage where JJ Slevin and Walsh failed? McManus does have good horses for the two-mile chase division with Philip Hobbs’ Defi Du Seuil too.
Who else could be retained rider to McManus?
Other jockeys are available at bigger prices in the next retained rider to McManus market. Richie McLernon is another reserve used, but lacks association with high-profile horses. That doesn’t help his cause.
Richard Johnson is of a similar age to Geraghty, so that counts against him. British champion jumps jockey Brian Hughes, meanwhile, has the pick of mounts at northern stables.
That is a cushy number and one he may not give up so easily. Harry Cobden and Sam Twiston-Davies have had big days through their associations with Paul Nicholls. Either could be considered.
The Bowen brothers, Sean and James, are a bit like Jonjo Junior. The potential is there, but the lack of big race experience is a downside.
Whoever is the next retained rider to McManus, stepping into the shoes of McCoy and Geraghty is no mean feat. Their generation is largely gone from the weighing room now, so this appointment is a real passing of the torch.