Ted Walsh has just one bullet to fire at Cheltenham, Foxrock in today’s four-mile National Hunt Chase.
Walsh may have a tough veneer but he’s putty in his daughter’s hands. Foxrock will be ridden by Katie, and have absolutely no doubt about it the tears will arrive in spades if the horse does the business.
“I’m a very emotional fellow,’’ admits Walsh. “I love this game, I’m emotional and can get very emotional when any Irish horse is coming back to the winner’s enclosure.’’
Five times, he has visited the number one berth at Cheltenham as a winner.
He enjoyed four successes as an amateur jockey and trained Commanche Court to land the Triumph Hurdle in 1997.
“That was special,’’ accepts Walsh. “He was the best horse I have ever had anything to do with.
“He was owned by someone (Dermot Desmond) who was as sound a man as you would come across.
“I got a great reception, I was popular on television at the time — I don’t know if I still am — and it wasn’t a hundred miles after my race-riding days were over.
“I cheered in many great Irish winners, the likes of Dawn Run, Danoli, Istabraq and Imperial Call, that day I was the host.”
And then, of course, Commanche Court went on to become a high-class chaser, finishing second behind the brilliant Best Mate in the Gold Cup of 2002.
“It was so close’’, recalls Walsh. “I was delighted with the horse, but felt I had missed my opportunity. I knew it had slipped away and that I was unlikely to ever get another chance to win a Gold Cup.
“Alastair Down (Channel 4) said “poor Ruby’’. But I said what about poor old fucking Ted, Ruby will have loads of chances in the future, but I will probably never have another one.’’
Walsh rode four winners at the Festival, starting on Castleruddery for the late Peter McCreery in the Kim Muir in 1974.
He won another Kim Muir two years later on Prolan for Edward O’Grady and was also successful aboard Hilly Way (McCreery) in the Champion Chase of ’79, before ending by driving the tough Attitude Adjuster to victory for Mouse Morris in the Foxhunter of ’86.
Walsh says Castleruddery and Attitude Adjuster were his best days at Cheltenham as a jockey.
“Castleruddery because he was my first winner and Attitude Adjuster because he was my last,’’ says Walsh.
“When I was coming down the chute, after winning on Attitude Adjuster, I decided I was never going to ride over jumps again. I said to myself that I didn’t need this any more.
“My heart and soul were no longer in it. I rode on for another four years in bumpers, but my days as a competitive amateur were over.”
Good and all as Commanche Court winning at Cheltenham was, Walsh says that Papillon, with Ruby in the plate, landing the Grand National at Aintree in 2000 was his finest hour.
“The two races you want to win are the National and Gold Cup,” reveals Walsh.
“As a small trainer you can only dream about winning them and it was great to do it. Tom Dreaper was a great and famous trainer, but he never won the National. Willie Mullins has terrific firepower, but has yet to win a Gold Cup.”
So what does Walsh see happening at Cheltenham this week, starting with the Champion Hurdle?
“It’s wide-open and Hurricane Fly is capable of winning,” says Walsh. “But he will have to produce his best, the Hurricane Fly that ran last year won’t be good enough. The New One is the horse to beat, he is young and on the way up. My Tent Or Yours is a good horse, but got beaten here last year by Champagne Fever.
“Our Conor was brilliant when winning the Triumph last year, but has a lot more to do now.
“He has a great man training him in Dessie Hughes, who knows exactly what is required. But very few five-year-olds have won the Champion Hurdle.”
The Gold Cup he describes as “the race of the year”.
He says: “Bobs Worth won last year and is very tough, while Silviniaco Conti was a good winner of the King George at Kempton and Last Instalment was superb at Leopardstown.”
He is a fan of Vautour in the Supremes Novices’ Hurdle. “He reminds me of Champagne Fever, jumps and stays and whatever beats him will have to really stay two miles.”
When you ask him about the massive battle between Big Buck’s and Annie Power, in the World Hurdle, there is no sitting on the fence.
“The Big Buck’s that ran the last day was disappointing,” says Walsh. “Annie Power will stay and, if she does, will ate him.”
His best bet of the meeting? “Quevega, but she will be too short, and I think On The Fringe will win the Foxhunter for Enda Bolger, but it has to be Annie Power.”
Back to Foxrock and the possibility of tears, with Katie riding.
Says Walsh: “Katie has won the race for Ferdy Murphy on Poker De Sivola and is sweet on Foxrock. He stays and is a safe, if not spectacular, jumper. But this is a hard race and I’ll be happy enough if he finishes in the first four.”
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