It was the sweetest of farewells.
As Kemboy crossed the finish line after winning the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup at Punchestown yesterday, Ruby Walsh, the greatest National Hunt jockey of his or possibly any other generation, waved goodbye to the 18,887 people in attendance.
A career spanning 24 gloriously successful years was over. Confirmation of the inevitable followed within minutes. Win number 2,756 would be his last.
“That’s it,” the 39-year-old said on his return to the winner’s enclosure.
“You’ll never again see me on a horse — I’m finished. That’s it — it’s all over.”
Explaining the decision, he said: “There comes a time when you want to do something else. I’ve been a jump jockey for 24 years, I’m nearly 40, and I want to do something else for the next 24 years.
“I’m lucky enough to have great sponsors and contacts in Racing TV, the Irish Examiner, and Paddy Power and instead of them being bit-part figures in my life, they’re going to be my life now.”
Away from the bedlam of the parade ring, Walsh revealed he began contemplating retirement after breaking his leg when Al Boum Photo fell in the RSA Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The prospect of months of rehab filled him with dread.
He got through it though and looked as good as ever in the final months of his career, winning the Irish Gold Cup on Bellshill in February, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Klassical Dream at Cheltenham — his 59th Festival win — in March, and the Irish National on Burrows Saint last month.
Yesterday he revealed that had he won the Grand National at Aintree last month he would have called it quits there and then but Rathvinden could only finish third behind Tiger Roll.
He wanted to end on a high, though.
“It’s always been about big races and I said when I won a big race I’d walk away — and it doesn’t get any bigger than that one here.”
While there had been speculation in recent weeks that the end may have been nigh, Walsh kept his cards close to his chest.
His wife Gillian told him to announce it the way he had always said he would.
Remarkably, trainer Willie Mullins, with whom he has enjoyed such extraordinary success, was among those not in the loop.
“The R word is never discussed in our house, people or horses,” said Mullins.
“Ruby just got off and said ‘Can you find someone for Livelovelaugh (in the next race)?’
"I was thinking is he lame, concussed, or dehydrated, but he said ‘I’m out of here’ and the penny dropped.
“What more can you say? I just shook his hand. It was totally out of the blue for me as well, we’d never discussed it.
"I had no idea. It’s the end of an era.”
That it most certainly is. We won’t see his like again.