‘I was lucky enough to walk back down that chute 59 times so I have the memories’: Former jockey Ruby Walsh happy with watching brief at Cheltenham Festival
- Ruby Walsh will be working for both ITV and Racing TV at Cheltenham this week
- Walsh was the Festival’s top jockey 11 times during an illustrious racing career
- He rode 59 winners, including Kauto Star’s two wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Ruby Walsh is content. Happy he is going to the Cheltenham Festival and comfortable his contribution will be only from behind a microphone.
There is, the man who rode 59 Festival winners concedes, only one aspect of the biggest week in jump racing that he will miss.
Walsh, who was the Festival’s top jockey 11 times, said: ‘Do I miss all the anticipation, the build-up and people wanting to know what you are going to ride, trying to keep balls in the air? Do I miss the pressure of that? Absolutely not. I do not miss it one bit.
This week at Cheltenham, Rugby Walsh will be working for both ITV and Racing TV
Altior is one of seven declarations for Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, the race he has won for the last two years, as Nicky Henderson works hard to get him to the start after he was reported lame on Sunday. Henderson said: ‘If it was today, you wouldn’t run, but the improvement has been significant enough to justify leaving him in. If necessary, we’ll take it to the wire.’
Just over a year ago, Darver Star was some distance from looking like a Champion Hurdle contender, but he has won five of his six starts since and finished second in the Irish Champion Hurdle. It’s quite a turn of fortune but his owners — the Number Twenty Two Syndicate — know all about those. The No 22 ball was the last one drawn when they won €3.6million on the Irish Lottery in 2013.
If Who Dares Wins takes the Ultima Handicap Chase, the Alan King-trained gelding would lay claim to be the most versatile horse in training. Last summer he won the 2m Northumberland Plate on the Flat at Newcastle. He has also been placed at Royal Ascot and Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has big chances later in the week, headed by Gold Cup hope Clan Des Obeaux, but he reckons it is the ‘first time in 25 years’ he has not had a runner on the opening day. Twenty-four stand-alone hand sanitising units will be spread around the course to combat the coronavirus threat.
‘Will I miss walking into a parade ring with connections and pressure? No, I will not.
‘But if one of Willie Mullins’ horses wins, will I miss turning back down the chute and being cheered back to the winner’s enclosure? Yes I will.
‘But I can’t be in that position without the rest of it and I don’t miss any of the rest of it.
‘To be a jockey you have to be involved in everything. I was lucky enough to walk back down that chute 59 times so I have the memories.’
What memories they were. In between a first success with Alexander Banquet in the 1998 Champion Bumper and a final victory with Klassical Dream in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle there were Kauto Star’s two wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, four in the Stayers’ Hurdle on Big Buck’s, five victories with Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle and four Champion Hurdles, two with Hurricane Fly, and one each with Annie Power and Faugheen.
The latter’s emotional win at last month’s Dublin Festival which lit up the Leopardstown crowd is the only win Walsh admits he wished he was part of since retiring after winning the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy in May last year.
It was an exit Walsh, 40, was able to script with no regrets. But it has not left him with spare time on his hands. Quite the reverse. At Cheltenham, Walsh will be working for both ITV and Racing TV.
He also writes his own column for an Irish newspaper, rather than having it ghosted like in his riding days, as well as working for one of the big bookmakers and national broadcaster RTE at home in Ireland where he takes part a radio show twice a week covering all sport.
That is before he tries to spend three mornings a week riding out at the Mullins stable as well as working in an advisory capacity.
The 12-time Irish champion jockey said: ‘My kids tell me I am busier now than I ever was and I probably am. I have a new trade to learn.
‘AP McCoy always said we never had a job until we retired. We lived in our own world but now we are answerable to other people. We have joined the real world. I could decide when I was going to work and not going to work, now I have contracts and bosses.’
Walsh’s appetite for the Festival is as strong as ever and he is looking forward to the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Last year Chacun Pour Soi would have been his ride but Paul Townend, his successor as Mullins’ No 1 jockey who won the 2019 Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo, will take it.
Walsh said: ‘Paul is a strong character and aware tactically. He puts a lot of homework in and is strong mentally and physically. I would say he is looking forward to it.
‘He has had big race success at Cheltenham. He has always ridden big winners and has cemented a job that he was always going to inherit.’
That is no surprise. He has learned his trade alongside a Cheltenham Festival legend.
Ruby Walsh is sponsored by Racing TV — the only place to watch every Cheltenham Festival race, live and uninterrupted. Visit racingtv.com or call 0844 472 5566.