How do you pick a great jockey’s Most Memorable rides when the man in question has ridden over 2500 winners? Well, it’s with great difficulty. What comes to mind when you think of Ruby Walsh’s great victories are the horses themselves most of which were trained by Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls. He rode 59 winners at the Cheltenham Festival so these dominate the list of his finest rides however it should be remembered that he has ridden the winner of all four of the UK’s Nationals on several occasions, and added to these the Australian Grand National Steeplechase (Bashboy 2015), the USA’s Grand National Hurdle Stakes (Rawnaq 2016) and Japan’s Nakayama Grand Jump (Blackstairmountain 2013). What a fabulous record but for the purpose of this list I have concentrated on his rides in the UK, it is dominated by the best horses he has ridden.
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Trained by Ruby’s father, Ted Walsh, in County Kildare, this horse has a special place in his heart. They brought him to Aintree for the Grand National in 2000 and he was Ruby’s first ride in the great race at the age of just 20. In the race itself he gave notice that he was to become an outstanding jockey by keeping Papillon up with the pace throughout, he was prominent enough to chase the leader, Lucky Town, six fences from home. He took over the lead two fences later and Walsh kept his nerve to drive him out and win by a length and a quarter from Norman Williamson on Mely Moss. Papillon came back the following year and finished last of four after being remounted in one of the most gruelling Nationals in recent years but it’s 2000 that will live long in the memory
This Paul Nicholls trained gelding was sent off second favourite for the 2008 Queen Mother Champion Chase, the favourite was the previous year’s winner Voy Por Ustedes trained by Alan King. Walsh took over the lead at around half way then went clear from around two out giving his mount plenty of rein. They just went further and further ahead and trounced the former champion, winning by 19 lengths with a further 16 lengths back to the third. This was a great ride on a great horse who followed up by winning the Punchestown Champion Chase the next month. He returned the following year to Cheltenham to win the Queen Mother once again and Nicholls stated he was the best horse he had ever trained.
There are any amount of races you can nominate that were great rides aboard this champion and the one I wish to focus on is the 2011 King George at Kempton Park. Kauto Star had won this race four times previously but had had his colours lowered the season before by the new kid on the block, Long Run. Ruby didn’t ride him that day due to injury but was back in the saddle of the 11-year-old for this encounter and he gave a flawless display of jump riding. He raced Kauto Star prominently, tracking the leaders until taking over at the 8th fence. He stepped up the pace from the 12th, going four lengths clear three from home. He was never going to be caught from there and Kauto Star gained revenge over his defeat by Long Run. Walsh’s and his mount’s performance were described as ‘awesome’ after this win putting Kauto Star in the record books with five victories in the race.
This article is about memorable rides not just winning rides and what could be more memorable than Annie Power’s race in 2015. The mare was a star already in both Ireland and the UK winning 11 of her previous 12 races, her only defeat was at Cheltenham in the 2014 World Hurdle when she ran second over 3 miles. She had a 10-month break due to injury but came back to the festival as fit as ever to run in the Mare’s Hurdle with Walsh aboard once again. Everything went beautifully to plan, she was kept in touch, made headway three out, took the lead two out and soon went four lengths clear coming to the last but she seemed to land too steeply and inexplicably her forelegs crumpled under her and down the pair came causing thousands of betting slips all over the country to be binned. The bookies called it ‘the £5million blunder’ because that’s what it saved them! But the pair did have their time in the sun, coming back the following season to win the Champion Hurdle and the Aintree Hurdle.
Ruby Walsh does not turn up at Haydock Park very often but when he does he certainly lights up the place. I was lucky enough to be there on a dank, dark November day in 2012 to see Silviniaco Conti run and try to follow up his Charlie Hall Chase victory three weeks earlier. The gelding looked a picture in the paddock and Ruby looked super confident going to the start. The pair jumped off in the lead and Ruby gave a masterclass of reading the pace and slick jumping, all he had to do was shake the gelding up between the last two, steady him into the last and stay in command on the run-in where a top class horse, Long Run, was kept in second, two and a half lengths behind. It was a magnificent piece of horsemanship on a great horse who went on to win two King George’s.
This giant of a horse had failed to win during the 2008/09 and it was felt his best days were behind him as he had had his troubles with both injuries and illnesses. When he came out for his first race the following season, the Hennessy at Newbury, he was giving at least 12lbs to his opponents and many felt this was too big an ask even with Ruby aboard. But he was to prove his doubters wrong under a great ride from the masterful Irishman. Ruby kept him up to his work during the race and his bold jumping had him well placed throughout. When he was joined by What A Friend going to the last, to whom he was giving 22lbs, it was felt the younger rival had his measure but Ruby rallied the big gelding who battled back and powered away to win by three and a half lengths. Denman never won again but is fondly remembered at Newbury after his five victories there.
A small horse with a very big heart, a winner of five Irish Champion Hurdles a two Cheltenham Champion Hurdles and it’s the first of those that sticks in the mind. He was a winner of nine of his previous eleven contests and this was to be the first time Ruby had ridden him for two years. So Hurricane Fly crossed the water for the first time and the Irish Champion was sent off as favourite for this Blue Riband event, the race was not very strongly run but Ruby had him travelling smoothly with a very patient ride. His fluent jumping took him to the front and although Peddlers Cross challenged briefly at the last, Ruby rode him out to victory. Comparisons to the great Istabraq were made after this race and there can be no higher compliment paid than to be compared to that great champion.
UN DE SCEAUX
This French bred gelding had a 100% success rate in his seven hurdle races but when trainer Willie Mullins sent him chasing he had fallen at Thurles with the race at his mercy. He then easily won his next two novice chases in Ireland and so arrived at the festival as odds on favourite for the Arkle. But this was to be more than just a steering job for Ruby as the gelding was brought into the parade ring late and was sweating up by post time, it was Ruby’s job to stop him boiling over and so ruining his chances. In the race itself he set a strong gallop and jumped fluently throughout, after making most of the running the jockey shook him up after two out and kept him going on the run in to finish 6 lengths clear of his nearest challenger. Un De Sceaux has continued his winning ways winning a clutch of Grade 1 races as his career has progressed.
This leggy gelding was only having his second run in a three mile event, the previous one was is the United States where he ran third, and Ruby knew he could not be too aggressive with him over this distance. During the race he kept him held up and the horse responded by travelling fluently but on being asked to go after two out he made good headway to reach the two leaders, Lil Rockerfeller and Unowhatimeanharry, after the last and under Walsh’s driving he was able to overtake them and prevail by three-quarters of a length. Another beautifully judged ride from the champion jockey. Nichols Canyon was unfortunately killed the following season in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown so curtailing what should have been a promising career.
The machine, a wonderful racehorse, the winner of his first eight races including three Grade 1’s. He was a previous winner at the festival having won the Neptune in 2014 so he came to the Champion Hurdle the following year on the back of a fine victory in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. He was sent off the odds-on favourite and was given an exemplary ride by Ruby who used well judged waiting-in-front tactics. He travelled well throughout the race and was asked to quicken three out but he gave his supporters a fright at the second last when hitting it hard and having to regain his momentum up the straight. But Ruby had kept extra in the tank and was able to ride him out for a length and a half victory over Arctic Fire, yet another beautifully judged ride from a truly wonderful jockey. Faugheen pursued a novice chasing career in 2019/20 and won two Grade1’s as a 12-year-old showing what a great champion he is.