At 10.59pm on Saturday night, Barry Geraghty posted a tweet on his Twitter account that he was retiring from the saddle after a wonderful 24-year career.
The picture under his tweet showed three beautiful ladies and a dashing young man stood beside a happy and content father and husband. All smiling, all proud, some relieved and some probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
His tweet was short but the last the seven words and the smiles on everyone’s face says a lot more. “I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”
He doesn’t really know what the future holds - I didn’t know 15 months ago either and, being honest, do any of us know? But it is much easier to look forward when you’re happy with what’s behind you.
It all started for him on January 29, 1997 at Down Royal when he guided Stagalier to victory for Noel Meade. He didn’t know then but undoubtedly would have taken the career he has had with both hands had it been offered to him that winter’s afternoon.
A total of 1,920 winners, champion jockey on two occasions, 43 Cheltenham Festival winners, 121 Grade One winners, a Grand National, two Gold Cups, four Champion Hurdles and five Champion Chases, to list some of what he achieved.
He couldn’t have seen that future or career he would end up having but it happened for him. He turned dreams into reality and took every opportunity afforded to him through a career I know he enjoyed.
I know, because for 23 of those 24 years, I was there. Our careers ran side by side from the very beginning. I was champion amateur, he was champion conditional, I was champion jockey, then he was. He became the leading jockey at Cheltenham, then I did. We both won Grand Nationals in our early 20s and from around that time, as we established ourselves in the weighroom, I have sat beside him in 75% of the Irish weighrooms and in every weighroom in the UK.
We competed against each other at the top of our sport in a very competitive way but always managed to stay friendly. Barry was extremely focused on where he was going, knew what he wanted and always found a way of achieving the most he could.
Pressure never fazed him, the bigger the day or the shorter the price of the horse he was riding the more confident Barry would become. He always tried to keep things simple and was never one to overcomplicate his tactics.
He would simply try and get a good start and keep his horse as close to pace as his horse was happy. He was never one to commit too soon but neither did he like being too far back - think Epatante, Sprinter Sacre, Moscow Flyer or Jezki rounding the home turn at Cheltenham on the bridle with enough left to kick away if challengers came.
Of course he could pull them out of the fire too: Sire Du Berlais in the Pertemps, Champ in the RSA, and Bobs Worth in the Gold Cup, to mention a few.
He was as physically strong as he was mentally tough, and I never wanted to be going head to head with him from the back of the last. He always rode tight but was a fair rider who he never gave an inch and didn’t expect one either.
Maybe it’s my make-up, but I can recall the days he beat me quicker than I days I beat him. Moscow Flyer downing Azertyioup in the Tingle Creek, More Of That outstaying Annie Power in the World Hurdle, and Punjabi nailing Celestial Halo In the Champion Hurdle, to name just a few.
We sat by side by side through some of the biggest days in our careers and, at times, sought the other’s advice or just knew when to say nothing to each other. We shared a lot of transfers in the UK and had the art of racing through Heathrow perfected better than we ever had race-riding.
Barry made very few mistakes, which is why he rode for all the top yards both here and in the UK and ultimately ended up working for JP McManus. He never burnt a bridge as he moved through his career from Noel Meade to Jessica Harrington and across the water to Nicky Henderson, where he commuted to weekly from his Meath home.
It sounds glamorous but I did that for 10 years and know how hard it becomes for many people with families here, as you go to work there.
His ability to communicate with trainers and owners was a huge asset to making him so successful but it was ability to deliver on the big stage that sealed him his place in the racing history books.
He had his fair share of knocks too, and over the last five years endured a tough time with injury, breaking both his legs, both arms, a shoulder blade and considerable amount of ribs which forced him to miss the Cheltenham Festival in 2017. But his mental strength and ability to refocus meant he began last season with a new target: To be successful again and walk away from this magnificent sport on his terms.
Perfection is an idealistic term but he damn near did it, riding five winners at Cheltenham in March to put himself back where he always belonged. He was won everything and has no more to achieve as a rider.
Our careers ran side by side, our friendship was a working and very competitive one. We commuted together, beat each other, looked out for each other but never fought with one another.
His wife, Paula, always hoped he would walk away on his owns terms and he has. Siofra, Orla and Rian - their three smiling kids tagged in his tweet - can enjoy having him around a bit more now. I most certainly know Barry Geraghty made me a better jockey. I hope I made him better too.