Big shoes to fill as the search begins for JP McManus’s new British rider

Champ and Mark Walsh win the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree 5/4/19

Barry Geraghty announced his retirement on Saturday evening, with one of jump racing’s leading all-time riders holding one of the most sought after jobs at the time: JP McManus’s retained British rider. His retirement clears the way for new blood to enter the fold and cement a legacy, but who is likely to be filling those shoes?

What do the bookies say?

Paddy Power has made Mark Walsh the firm 11/10 favourite to scoop up the role, but given the impact COVID-19 will have on racing and quarantine rules for at least the foreseeable future, is having a rider based in Ireland taking the British rides a sustainable idea? With Walsh already his retained rider in Ireland, it’s perhaps more likely that McManus will go hunting elsewhere for Geraghty’s replacement and keep his current set-up of different Irish and British retainers. Whatever happens, it would be a huge surprise to see Walsh not continuing to be his retained rider in Ireland at the very least.

The market, as it stood on Monday, reads:

  • 11/10 Mark Walsh
  • 6/5 Aidan Coleman
  • 10/3 Jonjo O’Neill Jr
  • 8/1 Richard Johnson
  • 33/1 Brian Hughes

Coleman’s time?

Aidan Coleman is second in line at 11/8 and it’s not hard to see why, with Coleman making quite a splash last season. He’s one of the more likely choices given his resume and at the age of 31, he’s hitting his peak and still has plenty of years left. He landed a third Grade 1 at this year’s Cheltenham Festival among other big races, including the Kingwell, Cleeve Hurdle and Newbury Long Distance Hurdle.

Coleman has already proven himself as a big-game player and that is just what JP McManus would be looking for, given the hugely exciting crop of horses he has coming through at present, including potential Gold Cup candidate Champ and Champion Hurdler Epatante. It would be a hugely deserved break for Coleman, who has shined brightly for the likes of Emma Lavelle, Colin Tizzard and Henry De Bromhead, just to name a few, in recent years.

Young blood on the rise?

A very popular choice is likely to be Jonjo O’Neill Jr, who has excelled since losing his claim and snatched a pair of Grade 2 successes last season for Colin Tizzard, aboard Native River and Copperhead. He’s already a Cheltenham Festival winner too, landing the Martin Pipe at the 2019 Festival with a peach of a ride on JP McManus’s Early Doors for Joseph O’Brien.

He lacks the experience factor, which given the riders that JP McManus has retained in the past, could well be a negative to his chances. That being said, he’s one of the most exciting jockeys we’ve had coming through the ranks in recent years and given that he’s ridden a huge amount of winners for JP McManus, he’s sure to have the bosses attention.

Not the obvious?

Although a single figure price in the market, it would be a surprise if Richard Johnson scooped the job. That’s nothing to do with his ability, but his advancing years don’t make him a long-term solution. Brian Hughes spends a lot of his time in the North and although he’s already considered by many as Britain’s best rider, he wouldn’t be the obvious choice to succeed Geraghty on paper.

Both the Bowen brothers, Sean and James, have both been catching the attention in the past few seasons, especially the former, but the lack of experience for both puts them in the same boat as Jonjo O’Neill Jr as riders who perhaps need a few more years to be on the radar of such a high-profile gig. Geraghty was poached from Nicky Henderson all those years ago and Nico de Boinville couldn’t be left out of the conversation. He’s got a wealth of experience at the highest level thanks to his partnership with Seven Barrows and there is a strong argument to be made that he’d struggle to turn down such an amazing opportunity.

There is also the potential he retains no one in Britain, and shares the rides among jockeys such as Richie McLernon, O’Neill Jr and Coleman, as he has in recent times where he’s been running a plethora of runners on the same day. As they say in many other sports, let silly season begin!

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