The odd day stuck in Bristol, the occasional broken bone but his name will echo down generations
RACING:A jump jockeys’ lot may seem glamorous, but it’s a tough bloody life, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
The jockey’s life spins on the weathervane’s whims. Never more so than in the deep mid-winter. Ruby Walsh was standing in line for the 7.45am flight to Bristol on Thursday morning, knowing there was a fair chance he was about to waste his day.
Over in Exeter, 31mm of rain had fallen overnight but they were taking their sweet time about deciding to call off the day’s racing. Grand for them, not so grand for anyone about to hop on a flight to head their way.
Time ticked. Rain fell. Flight FR502 was called. Walsh was in twilight, 95 per cent sure that the card would be called off but beholden to the other five per cent that couldn’t let him turn on his heel and go home.
So he handed over his boarding pass and walked out the door and on to one of Ryanair’s finest. No sooner had the aircraft pushed back from the gate than he felt the phone buzz in his pocket.
Waterlogged course. Meeting abandoned.
Fifteen minutes, that was all. Had the card been nixed 15 minutes earlier or the flight boarded 15 minutes later, he’d have been at home with his feet up by nine o’clock.
As it was, the aircraft sat on the runway for another half an hour – just to bug him, obviously – and once he was in Bristol, the next flight back to Dublin wasn’t until 5.30 in the evening.
To kill the day, he headed to Paul Nicholls’ yard in Ditcheat, about 30 miles to the south.
The rain was so heavy he couldn’t even ride a bit of work dow n there. Ho-hum. “Sure I got a day out,” came his wry verdict on the day.
The whole caper would drive a man round the bend if he was of a mind to let it. But this is the life he chose as a boy and it’s hard to argue he hasn’t got the better of the give and take so far. The odd day stuck in Bristol, the occasional broken bone – you pays your money and you takes your chances.
In return, he gets to ride more of the best horses across two countries than anyone else, he makes a serious living along the way and his name will echo down generations of the sport when we’re all in the ground. Hardly the most taxing of trade-offs.
Still, the game swallows you whole when it feels like it and it hardly ever asks permission. Around Christmas it gets especially ravenous.
One time, the threat of fog enveloping Dublin Airport on St Stephen’s Day was so bad that he and his wife Gillian took a late flight out on Christmas Eve just so he could be in Kempton for Kauto Star in the King George.
This was 2006 and Tony and Chanelle McCoy played innkeeper that year, the Walshes’ first as a married couple.
“The pair of us were there like two orphans on Christmas morning with no presents,” he laughs. “It was different but it had to be done and we did it at the drop of a hat.”
Christmas dinner was no feast that year.
Ordinarily, Walsh never has much of a fret when it comes to his diet. He isn’t one of those jockeys who has to get by with a square of chocolate, a cup of tea and a box of fags a day. But that particular year, an hour before he rode Kauto Star, he had to do 10st 1lb on Bold Fire, the favourite in the Feltham Novices’ Chase.
When punters see that he’s gone down that low in the weights, they assume the horse is a shoo-in so Bold Fire predictably went off as favourite. Almost as predictably, the horse ran no sort of race and Walsh had to pull him up before the last.
For all the talk about it, Bold Fire turned out to be a dud and never won another race.
Even allowing for the bad weather, there’ll be no pre-big-day dash to England this year. He’s still in Kempton on Wednesday but there’s more than just Gillian to be dragging along with him now. Isabelle is just gone three and Elsa is 20 months. Christmas is their day now, not his.