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Dublin: 11 °C Monday 14 October, 2019

Johnny Ward's Day 3 verdict: No Festival for old men... unless you're Barry Geraghty

There was some inspirational displays at Prestbury Park today.

Barry Geraghty celebrates winning with Sire Du Berlais.
Barry Geraghty celebrates winning with Sire Du Berlais.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

MIDWAY THROUGH THE madness today, a fellow Irish member of the press corps was a bit shook from the night before, using memories that made him laugh as the healthiest hangover cure.

We were waiting on coffees but he was not waiting to relay his story. “You should have seen the hotel I stayed in last night – the craic we had, and that song your man would break into literally every five minutes.”

The ballad, Fourteen Men, is a Wolfe Tones ditty, written by Derek Warfield following Dublin’s victory over Offaly in the 1979 Leinster football final – a win achieved despite the legendary Jimmy Keaveney getting his marching orders. Hence the name.

“Jesus he was unrelenting, but everyone was enjoying themselves so much nobody cared,” my friend went on.

By the end of the night, he added, even the English in the bar were joining in.

I cannot relate, having slumped into bed every night without having partied once: this is no Festival for old men.

Or is it?

Barry Geraghty turns 40 this year and if you are a jumps jockey in your 40s you tend not to be much of a jockey anymore. Last year, all the talk was that JP McManus was going to sack him – or that he would retire quietly (jump before he was pushed).

Neither happened. With next to no explanation from the publicity-averse McManus camp, Geraghty was no longer riding all of the main green and gold horses but very many of them, mainly those trained in Britain.

In 2003, I knew nothing about racing but my mates brought me along for the Cheltenham ride. I blindly backed Geraghty for some reason and he rode like a man possessed, winning five races during what then was a three-day meet. By the end of each night, I was probably some version of the reveller and his Fourteen Men.

Geraghty was incredible that year, yet no performance was as good as that aboard Sire Du Berlais today. Likely the horse, wearing headgear for the first time, was taking the mick a bit, but Geraghty turned what was apparently certain defeat for most of the race into the most uplifting of victories.

Riding like this, Barry Geraghty could even get Brexit over the line.

Afterwards, he said to ITV that this, his 38th Cheltenham Festival winner, was just “as good as the first.”

Gordon Elliott, without a hint of irony, said he “was happy the whole way through the race” – unlike the guy who laid the winner at over 200-1 in-running on the betting exchanges.

“It was a masterful ride,” added Elliott.

If that were uplifting, it being just the second event on a third day in which bookmakers were pretty much floored, what would transpire afterwards defied the futile tool of these words.

Geraghty had offered his words still mounted on the track. Bryony Frost was also interviewed just moments after Frodon’s win in the Ryanair and produced an interview in what seemed a single breath that suggested she must be one of the most energy-saving riders ever seen.

Frost – one of three women to have ridden a winner so far this week – could talk for Ireland, England and whatever United Kingdom emerges from these batty days. She would probably be that jogging mate who wants to chat throughout as you pant like a chain-smoker.

The first woman to win a Grade 1 over obstacles at the Festival, she has the vibe that her loose style on Frodon suits him better than any other jockey’s.

“My God, he jumps and just at that minute when he got overtaken, most horses would quit – but he grabbed me by the hands,” she enthused, barely exhaling.

“He said: ‘Don’t you dare give up, don’t you dare not send me into the last — I want this more than you, now come on, where are you?’”

Aidan Coleman onboard Paisley Park celebrates winning Aidan Coleman onboard Paisley Park celebrates winning the Stayers' Hurdle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

They say what you never had you never miss but the victory of Paisley Park in the feature Stayers’ Hurdle wiped the floor in terms of emotion, his owner – blind-all-his-life Andrew Gemmell – grinning as if he could not stop laughing at his own joke.

Gemmell is beyond an inspiration on days when we moan about this or that First World problem like dodgy Wifi or the train running late or the dodgy Wifi on the train running late. Invoking the era of another winner of the race, Gemmell confirmed that he knows more about racing than most of us.

“It’s wonderful — fantastic. I can’t believe it’s happening. He isn’t big, but he’s in the Baracouda mould. He hits that flat spot and then comes again.”

I can only speculate as to whether Gemmell takes a drink or not but when he wakes up tomorrow morning, given the aggressive hugs he had no option but to accept from his many acolytes at Cheltenham today, he may be forgiven for feeling a shade tender.

Gemmell will, still, be dreaming of both he and Paisley Park doing it all again next year.

2020 vision.

– Updated 19.05: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Bryony Frost was the first woman to win a Grade 1 race at the Cheltenham Festival; she is the first to win a Grade 1 race over obstacles (Katie Walsh, Champion Bumper, 2018).

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