Ruby Walsh, the most successful jockey of all-time at the Cheltenham Festival, called time on his glittering career following success on Kemboy in the Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival.
With a total of 59 winners, 39-year-old Walsh has been leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival a remarkable 11 times in the last 16 years. He is the most successful rider in the Stayers’ Hurdle, having won it five times.
He turned professional in 1998 and the age of 16, having already registered his first Cheltenham Festival winner via Alexander Banquet in the Champion Bumper that March.
His sole win at this year’s four-day spectacular in March came in the traditional curtain raiser to the meeting – the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – in which he guided the Willie Mullins trained Klassical Dream to an easy victory.
Walsh reflected on the equine superstars he partnered during his stellar career spanning 24 years which has yielded over 2,500 winners after announcing his immediate retirement from the saddle as soon as he passed the post aboard Kemboy.
“I rode all the best ones”
The 12-times Irish champion has partnered many household names during his lengthy career and was quick to pay tribute to the likes of dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star, Champion Hurdle hero Hurricane Fly and six-times Mares’ Hurdle heroine Quevega.
Walsh told Racing TV: “I’ve been so lucky from day one to ride so many incredible horses. I never dreamt that I’d get to ride the likes of the equine athletes that I rode.
“No jockey is any good without the horses – the horses are such a huge part of it. From the very beginning – Imperial Call here 20 years ago to Alexander Banquet, Kauto Star, Big Buck’s, Master Minded, Denman, Hurricane Fly, Quevega, Annie Power, Kemboy, Un De Sceaux – you name them! In anyone’s lifetime, I rode all the best ones.”
Walsh, who has been plagued with serious injuries in recent years, admitted he felt the time was right to hang up his saddle and is now planning to expand his media career rather than switching to the training ranks.
He said: “Everyone gets their fair share (of injuries) and I probably got a fraction more than my fair share. Someone has to have a high average for the lads at the low end and I was probably at the higher end of that. That’s racing.
“I’ve been a jump jockey for 24 years – I’m nearly 40 – and I thought I want to do something else for the next 24 or 25 years. Horses will always be part of my life. I love working for Willie and I’ll continue to do so.”
The Ultimate Horseman
For me, Walsh was the ultimate horseman and the rider you wanted on your side when it came to the big meetings like the Cheltenham Festival.
Watching him winning the Ryanair on Vautor was poetry in motion and will long live in my memory, along with his incredible partnership with four-time Stayers’ Hurdle winner Big Buck’s.
He was ultra-cool in the saddle, had a quiet riding style and a clock in his head that enabled him to judge the pace of races to perfection. To go out on a high, in one piece, and on your own terms was undoubtedly the right thing to do.
“Lionel Messi of jumps racing” – McCoy
Sir Anthony McCoy, the 20-times champion jockey, compared Walsh to Lionel Messi as he paid tribute to his great friend and it’s easy to see why.
“It’s a sad day for racing that he’s not going to be seen any longer on a horse,” McCoy told Racing TV.“He was the best jockey I ever saw or ever rode against. He’s like Lionel Messi playing football – you can’t teach kids to be like that, he’s just different.
“He genuinely had no weakness, he had the style and the strength, the temperament, the judge of pace – he had everything you would want in a top-class sports person and that little bit extra, he was different.”