Nicky Henderson and Sir Tony McCoy led the tributes to Barry Geraghty following his retirement from the saddle.
The 40-year-old has brought the curtain down on a glittering riding career that spanned more than two decades and included 43 winners at the Cheltenham Festival and a Grand National victory aboard Monty’s Pass in 2003.
Following the enforced retirement of Mick Fitzgerald in 2008, Geraghty was appointed stable jockey to Henderson, and the pair formed a formidable partnership – winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Bobs Worth and the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Sprinter Sacre in 2013.
Five years ago, he took over from McCoy as retained rider to leading owner JP McManus – and together with Henderson, the trio landed a whole host of major prizes, including two of the last three Champion Hurdles with Buveur D’Air and Epatante.
Henderson told PA Media: “It’s a sad day, but at the same time I’m sure Barry knew in his own mind that the time had come.
“It’s a pity we didn’t get to finish the season. But having said that, to ride five winners at Cheltenham in March means he’s really gone out in a blaze of glory, which is great.
“He’s been a great friend, and we’ve had some wonderful times together. Even before Mick had to retire, he rode plenty of winners for us, and when Mick did have to call it a day, Barry was the obvious man to go to.
“I had good young lads like Nico (de Boinville) and Jerry McGrath, but they probably weren’t quite ready to take over the whole thing, and I felt I needed to add some experience to the squad.
“Barry was great every day, but there’s no doubt he was particularly good on the big days. He obviously rode a lot of JP’s horses for us in recent years, and you throw in Sprinter Sacre and Bobs Worth – it’s been amazing.
“Bobs Worth was particularly special, because I actually bought him from Barry and he ended up winning at three consecutive Cheltenham Festivals. He was a proper legend of a horse – rather like Barry, who has been a legend of a jockey.
“He’s been an enormous help to the team, and we will miss him a lot. He’s a lovely guy who has had a great career, and he proved at Cheltenham this year he was still at the top of his game.”
McCoy had plenty of battles with Geraghty in the saddle before his retirement in 2015 – and has nothing but praise for his former weighing-room colleague and friend.
McCoy said: “We can all have opinions on jockeys, but you only only need to take a look at his CV to see his class as a rider.
“I’d imagine he might have liked to go out at Fairyhouse, his local track, or Punchestown, but Cheltenham was where he showed his true class – and for him to go out after riding five winners there is the perfect ending really.
“He was a brilliant jockey and a really good lad. The racing public has been very lucky to watch him for the last 20-odd years – jockeys like Barry Geraghty don’t come around too often.”
Frank Berry, racing manager to McManus, said: “We’ve had a great five years together – he’s a top man and brilliant to work with.
“He’s been a great jockey, and it’s great to see him getting out in one piece and on his own terms. He’s gone out at the top and was never riding better – not many lads get the opportunity to go out like that in the jumping game, so I’m delighted for him.
“When he had that fall in Liverpool (Aintree) last year and broke his leg, I have to admit I thought it would be tough for him to come back. For him to come back like he did, have the season he had and ride five winners in Cheltenham was incredible.
“He’s a good judge, and I wish him well for the future.”
Asked whether a replacement for Geraghty as the leading owner’s principal jockey would be announced, Berry added: “I’d imagine we’ll just be carrying on as we are, but nothing is set in stone.”
Along with Sprinter Sacre, perhaps the best horse Geraghty rode was the remarkable Moscow Flyer, who he guided to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on two occasions.
Moscow Flyer’s trainer Jessica Harrington said: “I spoke to Barry this morning, and we reminisced about all the things we did and didn’t do. He thanked me for everything I did for him – but as I said to him, he did a lot for me as well.
“He’s been a great jockey and he’s a great person to go with it. I was lucky I came across him at the same time Moscow Flyer was around, and they formed a great partnership.
“We had our arguments, like any good relationship should have – it’s good to get these things out! But we had some wonderful days together over the years and got on great most of the time.
“He was obviously a great jockey, but he was an unbelievable big-race jockey. He was always a man for the big occasion, but at the same time he’d give it everything for a small winner somewhere too.
“Moscow Flyer winning his second Champion Chase obviously sticks out, as well as his win in the Tingle Creek – that was an incredible day.”
Geraghty won the Champion Chase on five occasions in all – also striking gold aboard Henderson’s pair of Sprinter Sacre and Finian’s Rainbow, as well as the Colm Murphy-trained Big Zeb
“He’s one of the greats – a proper big-race jockey,” said Murphy.
“I’ve known Barry a long time, and he’s a great person. We were lucky to have him riding on some big days – we obviously had some great days together with Big Zeb, particularly winning the Queen Mother.”
With Geraghty following Ruby Walsh into retirement, three-time champion jockey Davy Russell is the elder statesmen of the the Irish National Hunt game.
He said: “He’s a top-class fella and a brilliant jockey. We’re roughly the same age, but he was obviously a professional while I was still an amateur – and I idolised him.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is how tough he is and how brave he was as a rider – he was shocking brave. He was always a good, tough competitor, but I didn’t realise until later in my career how tough he was – he is literally made of iron!
“He’s a great man to be around and he’ll be sorely missed.”