Ruby Walsh retirement: A tribute to the greatest jockey ever to sit on a horse

Ruby Walsh retirement: A tribute to the greatest jockey ever to sit on a horse

May 1, 2019

WHEN people discuss the greatest ever sportsman, the usual names are banded around – Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi…

Surely now, the most talented rider of a generation – if not of all time – deserves to be included in that list.

So far ahead of his peers has Ruby Walsh been over the years, it's only fair to honour him as such.

And what a treat it was to see him bow out on a high.

Taking the reins on Kemboy, a horse as close to his equine equal as it's possible to be, he gave the Punchestown public one final taste of his skill in the saddle, sitting quietly for a circuit before nudging and nursing his way to Gold Cup victory.

The winner, whose career is lifting off just as his partner's is finishing, can be added to a list of superstars stretching back almost as long the great man's life in the saddle.

Indeed, many riders would dream of getting the leg up on any of Kauto Star, Big Buck's, Annie Power, Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Denman, Vautour, Douvan, Faugheen – yet he was lucky enough to ride them all.

As the old adage goes, though, you make your own luck. And Ruby certainly did that, taking his chances when they were granted.

Horses such as Azertyuiop, Celestial Halo and Nolan were talented, of course they were, but none would surely have excelled in the same way had they been ridden by a different pilot.

Later on, Yorkhill, Champagne Fever and Nichols Canyon were the beneficiaries of victories that arguably were not their due.

Number one to Paul Nicholls from a young age, Walsh's familiar 'soft hands' approach gave rise to a wave of copycats.

No-one could emulate his style, though, and it's perhaps unsurprising that his great rival, AP McCoy, was his polar opposite.

The sight of Walsh kidding a mount along with his knees alongside the all-out, all-power drive of his counterpart is one that graced the turf on many occasions, and one that attracted many to the sport.

How wonderful it was for racegoers to be able to witness two Goliaths of the racing world going hammer and tongs, both as competitive as each other, neither giving an inch.

Along with McCoy and Lester Piggott, he can count himself among one of a select number of jockeys to have pervaded the general public's consciousness.

McCoy's retirement a few years ago was much maligned, but at least once Morecambe was gone, Wise remained. Now Wise has gone, too, and the sport is all the poorer for it.

When Walsh upped sticks back to Ireland to be with his family nearly a decade ago, it was a move that would prove to be as shrewd as the trainer he would go on to work for.

Taking up a full-time spot under maestro trainer Willie Mullins, whose burgeoning stable of superstars was the envy of many, Walsh's success, already extraordinary, would become legendary.

High-profile partnerships including Vautour, Douvan and Faugheen cemented his status as a Cheltenham Festival phenomenon.

Nearly 60 victories at Prestbury Park tell their own story, but it was his ride aboard Champagne Fever in the 2014 Arkle that perhaps best summarised his skill.

Taking the bull by the horns from the outset, Walsh delivered a masterclass from the front, calming his electric grey into a rhythm that saw him ping every fence in the style of a seasoned veteran.

Although he was clobbered on the line, he couldn't have given his mount a better chance of winning – and it so nearly paid off.

For much of his career, Walsh was a punter's best friend.

Never getting to work until it was absolutely necessary, he would eke, extract and cajole the maximum available from his mounts until their limit of their talent was reached and then surpassed.

Only towards his twilight did the keyboard warriors have their say, a slightly unsavoury record of falling at the final fence giving the Twitterati a reason to spout unnecessary vitriol.

Their disparagement only served to egg him on, though, and his final victory on Kemboy at Punchestown was a reminder to his doubters that even at 39, he's still the best jockey on the planet.

With his family watching on from the sidelines, it was the swansong he deserved.

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