I thought it might be a good idea to change the mood a little. I was lucky in my career to ride a lot of wonderful horses but here are the ones I would have loved to have ridden during my career if I got the chance.
I still remember the first time I rode against him. It was in the 1997 McManus Hurdle in Tipperary and I was on a horse called Native –Darrig. He went by me down the back straight like I was standing still. I just couldn’t believe the power and speed he had despite seven furlongs to go. I thought: ‘that is some racehorse’.
He was such a good jumper and if you look at all the great pictures of him, he’s in mid-air and you can’t even see some of the hurdles in the pictures. You go back to his Sun Alliance win in 1997, he nearly got knocked down at the second last and then they all came at him at the finish. But they just couldn’t get by him.
And when he went back down in trip to two miles, it didn’t matter what the others did, they just couldn’t beat him. He had the speed, the stamina and he was an incredible jumper. He won three Champion Hurdles and was the greatest hurdler I ever saw. Istabraq is my number one and I would have loved to have ridden him.
He was just so dominant.
2. SPRINTER SACRE
I beat Sprinter Sacre on Al Ferof in the 2011 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – and that was the last time I ever finished in front of him. He was an amazing racehorse and the day which still stands out in my mind is when he blew away Cue Card and Flemenstar at Aintree.
I also remember standing in the weigh-room in Cheltenham and watching him winning his novice chase under David Bass in Doncaster. Barry Geraghty was standing beside me and it was almost like he was riding him.
He was that excited watching him.
His stablemate Altior is a fabulous racehorse, but Sprinter Sacre was that little bit better.
3. BEST MATE
Best Mate won three Gold Cups. He was so lightly campaigned that I’m not sure he got the appreciation that he should have. He did something that only Arkle has done. I felt I had one great chance to beat him on Commanche Court in the 2002 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I’d still like to do things differently if I could ride that race again.
But that year, there was no hiding place with See More Business, Marlborough, Alexander Banquet and What’s Up Boys in the race. They were all proper horses.
He then hacked up for his second win in 2003 and despite getting caught in a pocket by Harbour Pilot in 2004 – he still managed to win. Brilliantly trained by Henrietta Knight, jockey Jim Culloty gave him some great rides. Maybe dual winner Al Boum Photo will win three Cheltenham Gold Cups next year – but Best Mate did it.
If you wanted a Gold Cup horse, Best Mate was the one.
I saw the wrong side of Altior on several occasions and I did everything I could to beat him – but never did. I first saw him when he won a novice hurdle in Chepstow and I thought: ‘Nicky Henderson has a novice ready for Chepstow in October – he can’t be the real deal!’
Boy did he prove me wrong.
He’s only been beaten once in his last 21 runs and even if he’s not as flashy as he was in his younger days – that’s still incredible. The day he beat Min in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016, he rounded off the bend and he just blew me away.
He did the very same thing the year after when he won the Arkle and then when winning his first Champion Chase in 2018. It’s almost like he knows where the winning post is!
I’d have loved to be on Altior’s back.
5. TIGER ROLL
The Grand National is the race that you dream of winning as a kid and to think that you could ride a horse who would win two – and still has the potential to win a third next year – sure who wouldn’t want to ride Tiger Roll?
His strength is his jumping. He’s low, he’s accurate and he’s won five times at the Cheltenham Festival. From the Triumph Hurdle to the National Hunt Chase to the Cross Country Chase and all the way up to his two Grand National wins. If I was riding still I’d love to be on Tiger Roll in the 2021 Grand National.
6. MOSCOW FLYER
While I finished in front of him the odd time, I finished behind him a lot more times. He couldn’t win a bumper and when he was running over hurdles, he looked like he wanted to go further than two miles, yet he turned into an incredible two-mile chaser.
Now, he had the habit of missing the odd fence but at that level and racing at that speed, if you’re not taking chances, you don’t win.
And it was almost like he knew that himself.
I rode Azertyuiop, who was a hell of a good horse, but Moscow Flyer was just better than him. Every jockey needs a big horse and Moscow Flyer was probably the horse that helped put Barry Geraghty on the map.
He just had an amazing engine and he was a horse who delivered at Cheltenham when it really counted.
7. INGLIS DREVER
He won three Stayers’ Hurdles with three different jockeys. He was trained by Howard Johnson and he was such a little warrior. He was just so tough. He was a real hurdler too as he was quick and low at his hurdles.
He wasn’t the fastest of horses but what he lacked in pace, he made up for in determination.
All top Stayers’ Hurdles horses seem to run the same. They race behind the bridle. Baracouda, Big Buck’s, Inglis Drever. It was always great for me going to Cheltenham having an ace like Big Buck’s.
For Inglis Drever’s connections, it was the very same.
Another great French-trained horse. Francois Douman trained him with his son, Thierry, riding him for most of his career. AP McCoy ended up on him in the end. He was an incredible stayer and I watched him plenty of times and rode against him too. He used to have some great buckles with Deanos Beano and Iris’s Gift and he had that great race with Bannow Bay in the 2002 Stayers’ Hurdle.
Lots of horses took him on but most times, Baracouda came out on top. He was a high-class horse and would have been a pleasure to ride.
I remember sitting in the weigh-room in Leopardstown the day he won the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup. You could feel the vibration coming down through the stand, as the people jumped up and down and roared him home.
The reception he got that day was incredible.
He was trained by Tom Foley and owned by Dan O’Neill and Danoli just caught people’s imagination. He first went to Cheltenham in 1994, when there was only ever one Irish ‘banker’, and he won the Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle under Charlie Swan.
Everybody loved him. I’ll just never forget that day in Leopardstown. It was magnificent. I rode against him in his very last race at Punchestown. I was an amateur back then and Danoli was the star horse that you’d love to have been on.
10. MID DANCER
The biggest race I didn’t win was the the 3m 4f Grade One Grand Steeple-Chase De Paris (French Gold Cup). It’s run in Auteuil in Paris and while it wouldn’t be high up on Irish or English people’s lists, to me it was always a great contest.
Mid Dancer won it three times, first as a six-year-old and then as a 10 and 11-year-old. It’s a proper Grade 1 race too – not a handicap – so you need a very good horse to win it. Mid Dancer wasn’t very big but he had bags of stamina.
You need an incredible horse to win three French Gold Cup and I’d have been very happy to have ridden him in any of those victories.