Yesterday afternoon’s featured Guinness Galway Hurdle, following hot on the heels of Tuesday’s heroics aboard Penhill, was just another example of what makes him one of if not the finest rider of all time.
Riding the Willie Mullins-trained Clondaw Warrior, who is a confirmed hold-up performer, he had the 9-2 favourite out the back and tucked away along the inside from an early stage. In a twenty-runner field going two-mile pace around an undulating track, a little luck and a lot of nous is required.
As the race unfolded, Walsh picked his way through the field stealthily, switched his mount to launch a challenge at the last, and got down and dirty to fend off the challenge of the admirable veteran Hidden Cyclone, with Princely Conn in third.
It was a first success in the race for Walsh, and a second for Mullins, 20 years after the victory of Mystical City, who was ridden by now assistant trainer David Casey, whose wife, Aine is a member of the winning syndicate, as is Ruby’s wife, Gillian.
“It was some job to get him out of where he was – another Houdini job by Ruby,” said a beaming Mullins. “When I saw him with just four behind passing the winning post, I thought it would take more than a miracle to get out of that position.
“But Ruby bided his time, waited and waited. But he got there, and was brilliant from the last.”
Walsh, who rode the winner of the big handicap on the Saturday in 1997, Welsh Grit, which was led up by his now wife, Gillian, was typically frank in his assessment of the ride.
“You have to ride the race from where you are, and I got a great run down the hill,” said Walsh. “He kicked four or five hurdles out of the ground, and if it was a flat race he would have won a lot easier. He has probably gone as high as he can over hurdles.”
Much kudos must go to the 11-year-old Hidden Cyclone, who continues to be a credit to his trainer, Shark Hanlon, while Rachael Blackmore’s effort on third-placed Princely Conn deserve equal recognition.
There had been a gloomier start to proceedings when Scamall Dubh caused a huge upset in the opening race. Seldom do big outsiders win beginners’ chases but the Mouse Morris-trained, Mark Enright-ridden gelding’s narrow success brought to two the tally of 66-1 winners in such races here this week.
Peter Fahey’s versatile Xsquared completed a five-timer when arriving late to take an eventful novice chase under Kevin Sexton.
Every meeting should be a reason to celebrate the good and the great of the sport, but this week has been eventful, not least this novice chase.
We certainly didn’t need the happenings of the past four days to serve to remind of the dangers involved in the sport, or the bravery of the men and women who participate for their livelihoods and our enjoyment. But such times are inevitable. The passing of John Thomas McNamara, who paid the ultimate price for his sport, cast a cloud over a meeting which goes further than any to involve the wider community in racing festivities.
Bryan Cooper is one of the brightest lights in the sport and the young Kerryman, who, after a long road back from a broken leg, earned due reward aboard Don Cossack in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, faces another spell on the side-lines after a horrific incident in the novice chase on yesterday’s card.
Riding Tiger Roll, he was still in contention jumping the second-last but, on landing after the fence, a rival collided with his mount with such ferocity it unbalanced the rider. As he fell from his mount, he got caught, momentarily, between the two animals and the momentum of the pair seemed to propel him towards the final fence. He was brought to hospital but the extent of his injuries were not known.
A day earlier rising star Connor King took a nasty tumble from Sea Captain in a flat race, resulting in a fractured vertebra which has confined him to the side-lines for a considerable period, while Robbie Power, who has been riding right at the top of his game, took a fall from Flaviana in a hurdle on Wednesday, which earned him an unwanted break.
Remarkably tough men, and more reason to celebrate unabashed when we witness remarkable performances in the saddle.
Somehow, in light of other incidents, it seems trivial that the stalls malfunctioned prior to the Hop House 13 Handicap, and that the eventual flag start was unsatisfactory. Elusive In Paris was turned the other way as the other runners took off, but he eventually participated, despite having no chance whatsoever.
Ironically, the lack of stalls suited Total Demolition, who had completely missed the start in a flat race here on Wednesday. Under a fine ride from Conor Hoban, John Larkin’s charge pounced late to deny Marshall Jennings.
“I laughed when the stalls broke, because he’s slow to come out of them,” admitted Larkin. “It just worked out well today. You couldn’t plan it.”
Andy Slattery’s success has been a high point of the season thus far, and the Tipp trainer, successful with Creggs Pipes earlier in the week, took the listed Arthur Guinness Corrib Fillies’ Stakes with the progressive Planchart.
The drop back to seven furlongs wasn’t ideal, but Declan McDonogh stalked the pace before using her stamina to get the better of Rayisa following a protracted battle.
Bryan Cooper was due to ride Bel Sas in the Guinness Novice Hurdle, but Ruby Walsh deputised and, with his charge jumping like a bunny, he dominated from start to finish aboard the Willie Mullins-trained 6-4 favourite.
Tara Dylan bounced back to form last week at Leopardstown, and the Tom Mullins-trained mare had little trouble following up under Gary Carroll, in the Guinness FOALS Handicap.
One wise man, long on wit but short on eloquent English, once advised ‘betting in bumpers would have you naked’. The latest example was served up by the locally trained Poormans Hill, 50-1 rank outsider in the concluding race on day four. Belying his market position, he got up late under Tom O’Brien to score for John Neilan and the optimistically named Out Of Recession Syndicate.
* Thursday’s attendance was down over 2,500, from 35,214 in 2015 to 32,663, and that was reflected in bookmaker turnover, which dropped from €1,920,224 to €1,626,663. There was better news for the Tote, which rose almost €300,000 from €1,137,337 to €1,420,737.