Ruby Walsh produces John Durkan Chase masterclass on board Min
Jockey wins on all three Punchestown rides in defiant reaction to injuries and criticism
Ruby Walsh after victory on Min in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Steeplechase (Grade 1) at Leopardstown. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Ruby Walsh produced the latest big race masterclass of his stellar career to win Sunday’s Grade One feature at Punchestown on Min.
At 39 the legendary rider appears to be adopting a more selective approach and prior to the weekend hadn’t ridden over fences in almost three weeks.
But having had to settle for second on Un De Sceaux in Saturday’s Tingle Creek at Sandown Walsh was in no mood to be denied in the 20th renewal of the John Durkan Memorial Chase.
Jack Kennedy is 20 years younger than Walsh and widely regarded as an heir-apparent to his record-breaking rival. So the older man’s attempt to make a gap inside Kennedy’s mount Shattered Love on the run to the second last got a blunt and dramatic response.
Having had that door unceremoniously shut, suddenly Walsh was forced to try for a narrow gap up the inside of the pace-forcing Balko De Flos just strides before the penultimate obstacle.
There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation and to his credit Min responded generously. After that the speed that saw the horse finish runner up to Altior in last season’s Champion Chase came to the fore and the evens favourite proved too strong for a rallying Shattered Love.
It was the highlight of a perfect three wins from three rides Sunday hat-trick for Walsh on Willie Mullins trained horses, not to mention a defiant reaction to injuries and criticism that have dogged much of his 2018.
Walsh is long enough in the tooth to know such flak is perpetual. And anyone predicting imminent retirement got a resounding answer from the relish Walsh clearly showed for this particular fight.
“That Jack Kennedy is learning!” he grinned afterwards. “I asked the question and he closed the door. I admire that. It’s race-riding. I’d do the same myself.”
There is ample evidence over two decades of just that and a pair of novice victories for Tornado Flyer and Getabird indicates a flow of young talent from Mullins that should be more than enough to prevent any temptation for Walsh to switch to a more sedentary life anytime soon.
Min however is a horse at the peak of his powers right now and is a 2-1 favourite for the two-mile Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The wealth of two-mile talent available to Mullins also includes Footpad, Un De Sceaux and Great Field who admittedly fluffed his lines at Cork on Sunday when falling at the second in the Hilly Way Chase as a 4-7 favourite.
“I don’t mind going back to two at all. He pulled very hard in behind there today and he has the speed for two,” Mullins said of Min who was ridden by Walsh for the first since Christmas 2016.
The champion trainer has always been Walsh’s biggest admirer and appreciated the race-riding instincts his old ally showed in those moments before the second last.
“Ruby was maybe a bit bold there but he had to do what he had to do. It was good and the horse responded. He jumped brilliantly and I was very pleased with that,” Mullins added.
Min is a general 10-1 shot to go one better in this season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase and similar odds are already swirling about Tornado Flyer for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at the festival.
The horse that was recently allowed keep last April’s Punchestown Champion Bumper despite a subsequent positive test for a prohibited substance didn’t put a foot wrong on his odds-on hurdling debut.
The first Grade One of 2019 at Naas next month could be next for Tornado Flyer but Walsh is already thinking beyond that.
“You’re looking at the whole year and trying to do as little as you can today. We want these horses here in April (for the festival) and it’s a long way from December,” he said.
Getabird’s debut over fences was equally faultless and earned him quotes for the Arkle at Cheltenham.
However Mullins warned: “He’s better right-handed and Leopardstown is left-handed. We might head towards Limerick for the new Grade One there over two and a half miles.”