Ruby Walsh produced a brilliant ride on Easy Game in Navan last Sunday, silencing the gutless social media critics who were quick to write him off as he struggled to come back after a series of injuries, writes Pat Keane
Ruby Walsh has had a bad 12 months or so with injuries, his latest setback coming on August 25 at Killarney.
That afternoon disaster struck in the second race on the card, a novice hurdle. Walsh was aboard the favourite, Sapphire Lady, who spun out of the contest at the sixth flight. He suffered severe bruising to his ribs and vertebrae and didn’t return to action until October 14, at Limerick.
It proved to be a less than perfect comeback, however, with Walsh getting beaten on his two rides, both having started favourite.
In lots of ways, that set the pattern for what has been a bruising seven weeks for the 12-times champion jockey.
By my reckoning, he has ridden a perfectly respectable eight winners in that time, but some high-profile falls and, arguably, an error or two along the way have seen him on the receiving end of some fair old criticism, particularly on social media.
The social media players, of course, largely hide behind anonymity and most are bigger clowns than the dreaded ill-informed drunk you can meet in a pub.
Away from social media, no doubt a fair degree of discussion has been going on and, it seems to me, some people are far too quick to draw conclusions, on limited evidence.
Admittedly, Walsh has not been at his best of late, his worst afternoon probably coming at Naas on November 10, which began when partnering the high-class Footpad in a Grade 3 chase. Footpad ran a stinker and was beaten when falling at the final fence.
It got worse for Walsh in the following Grade 3 hurdle, when his mount Saldier, who was sure to score, hit the deck at the final flight.
There have been a few other less-than-satisfactory days, as well. At Cork on November 4, for instance, Walsh’s charge, Robin Des Foret, the odds-on market leader, was holding every chance when departing at the third last in a novice chase. He was one of just two rides he had that day, the other, Minella Beau, also falling three out, when far from beaten in the Cork Grand National.
At Clonmel on November 15, he had just one ride, for Willie Mullins, taking third of four on Chambord Dy Lys. Mullins then proceeded to win the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil Chase with Kemboy and a Listed mares’ chase with Camelia De Cotte and both were partnered by Paul Townend.
Later on, you had Mullins seemingly offering some mild criticism of his long-time ally, after Walsh had been beaten on Faugheen by stable companion, Sharjah (Townend) in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
There was stuff on social media that was seriously harsh and a small portion of it was entirely unreasonable.
Here are three of the milder offerings from the keyboard beauties. One said: “The bloke is without any doubt past it.” Another opined: “One thing I think Mr Walsh should consider is getting his eyes tested.” Finally: “Ruby do us a favour, trot off.” Now, you can be virtually sure that all three brave souls were talking through their pockets and the gutless wonders would have nothing to say if they felt there was any chance of them being recognised.
However, all is far from lost and this particular keyboard warrior redressed the balance somewhat when he said: “Ruby is a top-class jockey and will be for a while yet. He has to put up with you muppets, who have probably never sat on a horse in your life, slagging him off.” Exactly right. Walsh is now 39 years-of-age and it is simply ridiculous to think he can, following an injury, immediately reach the staggering heights to which we have become accustomed. Obviously, as he gets older, it is inevitably going to take longer to get right back to his best.
Most sportsmen are the same, whether we are talking rugby, soccer, hurling or football. It requires time and patience to hit top gear, especially returning from an injury of a long-term nature. Walsh is basically riding at the moment on the back of suffering what is the equivalent of a number of car crashes.
At Navan last Sunday, however, there was real evidence that the moderate days are behind him and, hopefully, it is now onwards and upwards. Walsh was absolutely brilliant on Easy Game in a Grade 3 novice hurdle. This was a hot contest and it was hard enough to make a solid case for the four-year-old. So, the maestro gambled everything and rode the horse out the back, down the inside and like a non-trier.
Easy Game only had 50-1 no-hoper Under Surveillance for company jumping the third last and heading to the final flight was a relatively poor fourth.
Walsh in full flow, however, is a fearsome sight and he cajoled and drove his willing partner for all he was worth. Easy Game responded generously and nailed the three in front of him close home to score by a neck.
Social media hit a deathly silence, but it would have been oh so different had Easy Game run out of real estate up the Navan hill!
Walsh was instantly aware of the importance of the win and celebrated what was, by his extraordinary standards, a minor success. There are times when little fish are mighty sweet!
Back-track for a second to the Cheltenham festival of 2017. After the first two days the Mullins-Walsh juggernaut was completely stalled, with no winner on the board.
The biggest disappointment of all arrived on the second day, Wednesday, when the pair’s Douvan (2-9) could only finish seventh of 10 behind Special Tiara in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Come Thursday, however, Walsh turned the whole meeting around when banging in four winners, Yorkhill, Un De Sceaux, Nichols Canyon and Let’s Dance. That took character, real character.
Because of the unbelievably fast ground, for this time of year, Mullins has been in no hurry to produce the vast majority of his considerable team.
When they begin to come out, they will do so in waves and that will continue right up to the Punchestown festival next spring.
The Walsh we saw on Easy Game at Navan last weekend is the Walsh we have come to know and trust.
Soon, the Mullins battalions will be flying and expect Walsh to be doing a huge amount of the driving. Write this guy off at your peril.
Equally, we can anticipate the keyboard merchants going on with their sad lives as before, it’s just that the target(s) will be changed.