Last week, Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh was the guest of honour at an event to mark the launch of the Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle Grade One Race Day, which will take place at Naas Racecourse on January 8.
The 10-time champion jockey, 52-time Cheltenham Festival winner and 191-time Grade One victor sat down for a brief chat with well-known commentator Dessie Scahill and, as usual, entertained patrons with his direct answers.
Those looking for any insight into what might go where at Christmas were disappointed because if his boss Willie Mullins doesn’t know, and in many cases he wouldn’t, nobody else has a chance.
So, for the full lowdown, punters best get the jockey’s thoughts first-hand in the Irish Examiner.
There remained plenty of interest though.
Walsh preferred rugby in his youth and played until he was 18. He was really turned onto horses by the time he was 10 or 11 however, particularly as his father Ted — himself a multiple champion amateur — took over training from his own father, Ruby Snr.
So at the beginning, you got your amateur licence.
On my 16th birthday I applied for my licence and had a ride in Leopardstown three or four days later on a horse called Wild Irish; he finished fifth in a bumper. When I look back now, most of the guys that rode in the race are now guys that I ride for: Willie Mullins, Tony Martin, James Nash. We went to Tipperary a fortnight later and got beat half-a-length by Willie Mullins and things went on from there.
I spent that summer with Aidan O’Brien in Ballydoyle and I rode my first winner in Gowran Park on a horse called Siren Song.
I thought it was easy. I’d just ride another one again in a couple of weeks time. It didn’t really work out that way. Siren Song went back and won in Galway. Then, unfortunately, the summer came to an end and my mother made me go back to school.
That was the first big row I ever had with my mother but she won. I went back to school and when I look back now, I’d say she was right.
Mammies are always right! Your amateur career took off, with the winners coming rapidly and you would become champion. How was the weight at that stage?
I was heavy. That was my big fear going back to school. Sitting in a classroom all day, you weren’t out working but you were eating. I can remember cheating to do 10st 7lb in Naas and thinking I’d never make it as a professional. When I did finish school, as I got older and worked harder, I got lighter, and I’m lighter now at 37 than I was when I was 19.
Eventually you turned pro and reached the top bracket. Then came the situation where you combined jobs for Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls.
I was offered a job with Paul Nicholls and turned it down. I stayed in Ireland, Timmy Murphy got the job and things didn’t go so right for Timmy towards the end of the year.
I got offered the job again and it was dad’s idea that you could make the two of them work. There was plenty of diplomacy in it but I was lucky. Neither at the time were champion but both had lots of good horses and were on the way to being champion trainers and I rode on the back of that wave.
I had some wonderful days, came across some incredible horses and from the time I was 23 til I was about 33, I lived the dream. It was the best craic I ever had.
Was it difficult?
There was the odd blow-up, the odd row. I guess I was lucky in that if I rode four losers for Paul on a Saturday, I’d end up back on Ireland on a Sunday and a couple of Willie’s would win. So he would find it hard to blame me. And vice versa. I could get beaten on all of Willie’s on a Thursday and turn up in Newbury on a Friday and ride five winners for Paul Nicholls. I was just lucky that one would hit form when the other wasn’t.
There was the odd diplomatic call that had to be made, the odd occasion when I was at a meeting I didn’t want to be at, but I had to do it to keep the peace. But sure that’s politics, isn’t it?
You enjoyed unparallelled success and were associated with great horses.
Kauto Star was the best of them. He was an incredible horse. When you think it’s 10 years ago since he won the Betfair Chase, his first King George, the Gold Cup. He was a phenomenal horse.
He had everything: Pace, stamina, he was usually a good jumper but he was so durable. He had some very hard races, took some crashing falls and he always seemed to come back. He was the horse of a lifetime. I thought I found another one in Vautour but it wasn’t to be.
AP McCoy was your arch-rival on the track but a great friend off it. How did that work?
He was riding for Martin Pipe and I was never in danger of getting his rides. I was riding for Paul Nicholls and he was never going to take mine. So there wasn’t that rivalry that can be between jockeys.
When he left Martin Pipe to work for JP McManus it was the same thing. So there was never that competition where you have between riders, where you’re basically robbing the ride off them. That’s what it is. We’re all self-employed, trying to get the best rides. That dynamic wasn’t there and that’s probably why we did get on so well.
I enjoyed his company. I thought he was an incredible jockey and an incredible athlete but I enjoyed taking the piss out of him and I think that helped him as much as it helped me!
People are saying Ruby Walsh is as good as ever. What are you doing to maintain the edge?
Things have changed since I started riding. I suppose (Richard) Dunwoody changed it in the beginning and AP brought it to another level.
The fitness, the analysis, all the different things you do… the physiotherapy, the rehab. I do so much more of it now than I did do. Weight training, endurance training. You get into that as you get older because you have to, to stay with the younger lads coming behind you.
My father-in-law always said: ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ and I’m starting to believe him. You’d love to be able to go forever but I enjoy it so I want to do it as long as I can but you do have to work a bit harder as you get older.
Do you see potential champions in the next crop of riders?
You do. I was lucky enough to ride with some brilliant jockeys. I started in a generation of geniuses. Tactically, Charlie Swan was incredible. Physically, Richard Dunwoody was just an animal in what he could do and put himself through. Then you watched what AP did, how physically tough he was. You watched Dicky Johnson, how unbelievably fit he was. You watched Paul Carberry, how relaxed and just naturally gifted he was. I looked up to all those guys and then you end up somewhere on a level playing field with them, looking at the lads coming in behind you.
There are some great riders coming up but the unfortunate thing about a jump jockey is, you don’t know how good any of them are going to be until they get broke up and come back. That’s going to happen to all of us.
Until you get broke up, you think it’s the greatest game in the world. It’s so simple. Then you get slapped. Your leg is wrapped around your ear. And then you realise how hard this is and it’s how they come back. It’s interesting to see when they come back what they are.
There are so many prodigious talents until they get hurt and then it stops. That’s when you find out how good they are.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved