Why now is the right time to call it a day

Ruby Walsh gets a bucket of water thrown over him by Davy Russell after he announced his retirement. Picture: Healy Racing
Ruby Walsh gets a bucket of water thrown over him by Davy Russell after he announced his retirement. Picture: Healy Racing

After 24 very good years, yesterday I bowed out after winning the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy. 

If Rathvinden had won the Grand National I probably would have retired in Aintree, but he didn’t. 

But I knew nothing goes on forever. 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.

The decision probably came last summer. I felt if I could get through this year without injury, I would get out at Punchestown.

When the decision is made in your head for quite a while it’s easy to say it. I suppose when I broke my leg in Cheltenham last year I thought ‘I can’t do that again’. 

But I was determined that I would beat injury, and injury wouldn’t beat me.

Was there ever going to be a good time to stop working for Paul Nicholls, or ever going to be a good time to stop working for Willie Mullins? No. 

But there has to be a day. Could I have kept going until today? I’d have kicked myself if I missed an opportunity like Kemboy.

Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

I was going to keep going until I won a big one. There are four big races at this meeting, so it was going to be Kemboy, Bapaume or Melon. 

They were my last three chances, because Min got beaten here on Tuesday.

I discussed it with Gillian, and we looked at what way to go about it. She just said to stick to what you always said you would do – just get off one and walk away.

I hadn’t said anything to Willie but, as planned, I got off Kemboy and told himself and Jackie.

I’ve been looking forward to this day, not dreading it. I’m happy. 

I hate the cold and I’m not very keen on cold water either so, no, I won’t be traipsing across the arctic, climbing a mountain or jumping in a lake.

A jockey’s life is a hard life. You get lots of injuries. 

There’s an average of ten injuries in your life but to get an average someone has to be on the low side and someone on the high side, and it’s fair enough to say I was on the high side of it.

I’ve got used to watching the horses and, whilst it was hard to watch those I could have been riding, I’ll be watching horses now which I won’t be riding any longer. 

It’ll be enjoyable, and I love going racing and will be a part of that again. I’ll be part of Willie’s team if he’ll have me.

Time moves on. I’ve done this for 24 years and, to be honest, I want to do something else for the next 24. 

I have great connections with The Irish Examiner, Racing TV and Paddy Power, and instead of them being on the side line, fitting in around racing, they’re going to be my life.

I’ve had a great career, but any jockey is only as good as the horses he rides, and I was lucky to ride a lot of the best horses there were in my lifetime.

From 20 years ago here on Imperial Call through to Kemboy here yesterday, you could list them off: Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s, Master Minded, Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Annie Power, Faugheen, Vautour. 

You think of a good horse and there’s a fair chance I rode it. With the exception of Sprinter Sacre and Altior, I can’t think of too many I didn’t ride.

But, if there’s one moment that stood out, it’s winning the Aintree Grand National on Papillon for Dad in 2000. 

That was never going to be bettered for me. It was a fairy-tale.

If there was one regret, I would have loved to have won the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, but that wasn’t to be. 

It’s the only race I missed out on that I’d like to have won.

From the very start, I was very lucky. I got a great tuition from my father, and I had a great agent, Jennifer, who minded me. 

And I worked for the two best trainers. There’s no doubt about that. 

In England, I worked for Paul, and here I worked for Willie, and their records speak for themselves. And that’s what it’s about.

I could never have dreamed or foreseen what has happened for me. If I had a crystal ball when I set out on Siren Song in 1995, I couldn’t see what I have been lucky enough to achieve.

So, do I feel lucky? Yeah. I feel lucky to walk away in one piece. 

Am I happy that I won’t go to work and get hurt again? Yeah, that’s a relief, though I could probably go skiing and get hurt.

There has been many, many brilliant days since and, thankfully, there has never been a bad day for me, personally. 

There were five or six bad days in my riding career and they always ended up with us in a graveyard burying somebody: John Thomas, Kieran Kelly, Sean Cleary, Dary Cullen, Jack Tyner, Tom Halliday. 

They were the only bad days.

Looking ahead, will I train horses? No, not in this environment. 

How do you compete with Willie, Gordon, Joseph? 

Imagine starting from scratch and trying to compete with them. 

I might have been a jump jockey, and jump jockeys are brave, but we’re not stupid.

I enjoy media work. I’ll have to learn a new trade and start at the bottom. 

I don’t have a degree in journalism, so I’m a long way behind the eight-ball, but I always enjoyed learning. 

It’s a new chapter, a new challenge to look forward to.

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