Ruby Walsh will make a flying visit Down Under this weekend to team up with one of the stars of the local national hunt scene, Bashboy, in the Australian equivalent of the Grand National, at Ballarat Racecourse, Victoria.
The opportunity came about when the horse’s regular rider, Steve Pateman, picked up a suspension, ruling him out of the race, which Bashboy is bidding to win for the third successive year. Trainer Ciaron Maher wondered who might replace Pateman, and the idea of contacting Walsh entered his head.
“I’m really looking forward to it, it’s a fantastic opportunity, but it’s not a holiday,” said Walsh.
“Connections rang Willie (Mullins) on Monday morning, and we rang them back that night to say I could go. I had no commitments here, so when Steve Pateman’s appeal failed (on Wednesday morning), we got it all sorted out very quickly.
“I’ve never ridden in Australia, but I’m going there to ride at one of their top venues, to have a chance in a very big race aboard one of the top horses in Australia. It’s an opportunity that would have been hard to turn down.
“The horse has won the race twice already, and they think he’s a fair horse. I believe they’re getting proper winter weather down there at the moment, but I looked at his form, and he’s won on soft before, so he should handle the ground.
“I know the trainer is sweet on him, he’s in very good form, and I hope he’s right.”
Bashboy’s trainer, Maher, explained how Walsh’s impending arrival has caught the imagination of local racing folk.
“Ruby coming here is a great story for Australian jumps racing and it has really caught everyone’s imagination,” said Maher. “He’s a great draw-card, and everyone seems to be buzzing at the idea of him riding Bashboy.
“It will just be great to float a few ideas by Ruby and see how our horse stacks up with the National Hunt horses in his part of the world.
“It’s a shame for Steve (Pateman) that his appeal didn’t come through but, on the other hand, it’s fantastic to get a rider of Ruby’s calibre, experience and greatness.
“It’s funny how it all worked out, really. I was sitting back in my chair at home a week ago thinking ‘who on earth’s going to ride Bashboy if Steve is suspended?’
“I suddenly thought about Ruby, but just accepted it was pie in the sky. But then I remembered that Mike Symons, who is the chairman of Melbourne Racing Club, knows Willie Mullins quite a bit. Mike spoke to Willie and when we found out that Ruby was keen, we couldn’t really believe it.”
With full lorries arriving into Closutton, replete with the stars of last winter and numerous new recruits, this isn’t the right time to be taking a holiday and so it’s a case of flying in and flying back out, as Walsh explained: “I’m flying out from Dublin tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock, to be in Melbourne at 5 o’clock local time on Saturday evening. The race is on Sunday, and I’m due to arrive back in Dublin at 8am on Tuesday morning.
“I’m going to work — to ride in Australia — and am really looking forward to it, but it is, literally, a flying visit.”
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