Geraghty hopes he's called the right tune

 

Brian O'Connor talks to one of the leading jump jockeys in Ireland, who looks to have an appealing book of rides at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day

Tearing away from the live action to find a TV showing the King George VI Chase is as much a Christmas racing ritual as chilblains and an empty pocket. But no one will be looking at the Kempton showpiece more intently than Barry Geraghty.

The former champion jockey has decided to stay at home and ride at Leopardstown rather than partner Florida Pearl as he goes in search of a second successive victory in the King George.

Last year it seemed Florida Pearl had the plague as jockey after jockey declined to ride the Willie Mullins-trained star. This time he was Geraghty's to turn down. The horse has a habit of fooling people.

In one of the most prestigious races of the entire season, it is a brave call by the 23-year-old and he is prepared to stand by it.

Nevertheless, he can be forgiven come 2.20 p.m. on St Stephen's Day if his mouth turns a little dry. King George victories are rare in a jockey's career.

"Naturally, it's a bit worrying but I spent a lot of time weighing up the options and I made my choice," Geraghty said yesterday.

It's a typically no-nonsense attitude from a young rider who brings a cold, calculating eye to the business of making the percentages work in his favour.

Sentiment might have dictated going to Kempton but the odds favour the book of rides at home.

"Florida Pearl is a great ride and he has a great chance but he is one horse on the day and I think I would have struggled to get one or two more at Kempton.

"At Leopardstown, I have some very good rides like Le Coudray, Party Airs and Ri Na Realta.

"I had a double on St Stephen's Day at Leopardstown last year and I'd like to think I have a chance of doing something similar again," he said.

Geraghty has ridden 62 winners already this season and trails Paul Carberry by just eight in what could yet turn out to be a vintage race for the title. But of the 62, none quickened the pulse more than Le Coudray's win at Fairyhouse 23 days ago.

"That Drinmore Chase was a serious race and what's great is that he could still improve from that.

"Everyone talks about the two-mile trip on Thursday but I'm not too worried. He was ridden to get the three-mile trip over hurdles.

"I'm not saying he didn't stay but he was ridden for speed. Maybe he might have been a Champion Hurdle horse if Istabraq hadn't been around," he declared.

Such confidence doesn't bode well for the six others in the Denny Gold Medal Chase but Geraghty acknowledges it is not as clear-cut in the day's other feature, the Juvenile Hurdle.

"I ride Party Airs who has done everything asked of him. A person can only go on the basic form but these three-year-old races are very hard to weigh up, very tricky. He's a good ride but it's hard to know for definite."

It's a comment that echoes through the jockey's estimation of Florida Pearl's chance too.

"He does have a great chance and he's bound to be in the shake-up. After all, he has also been placed twice before in it. But it's hard to know.

"All I do know is that if the King George was at Leopardstown, everything would be sorted!"