Ruby Walsh retires: ‘You’ll never see me on a horse again, I’m finished’
Jockey dismounts for final time after leading Kemboy to Punchestown Gold Cup glory
Jockey Ruby Walsh after winning The Punchestown Gold Cup with Kemboy and announcing his retirement alongside his daughters and father Ted. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Ruby Walsh brought one of the great careers in the history of Irish sport to a spectacular end at Punchestown on Wednesday when the renowned jockey announced his retirement.
Just two weeks from his 40th birthday, Walsh exhibited the sort of big-race timing he’s been famous for by winning the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on the 13-8 favourite Kemboy.
Having waved to the crowd as Kemboy passed the post, the 12-times champion jockey returned to the winners enclosure and as he once predicted he would eventually do, removed the saddle and told trainer Willie Mullins he was done.
“That’s it, you’ll never see me on a horse again– I’m finished. I’m not going out for the next one,” Walsh said after weighing in for the final time. “Racing has been great to me but it doesn’t last forever.”
The huge festival crowd burst into spontaneous applause and hugely emotional scenes ensued as a 24-year riding career that produced almost 2,800 winners, including a record 59 at the Cheltenham Festival, came to an end.
Walsh was surrounded by father, trainer and broadcaster Ted, wife Gillian and daughters Isabelle, Elsa and Gemma.
“The time comes when you want to do something else with your life. I was going to go when I won a big one.”
Walsh also revealed that retirement had been on his mind since last summer.
“I thought if I get through the year I’d go at Punchestown.”
So 20 years after first winning the Punchestown Gold Cup on Imperial Call, the jockey widely acclaimed as perhaps the finest ever National Hunt rider chose his sixth win in the race to call time.
Even Willie Mullins admitted to being stunned when told by his old ally that he needed to find someone else to ride his remaining mount on the card.
However, Walsh appeared notably relaxed, almost relieved, having once again exhibited all his big-race talents on the biggest stage, just nine days after a memorable Irish Grand National win on Burrows Saint.
“I’m black and white. When my mind’s made up that’s it. I don’t like sitting on the fence,” he said before confirming that he’d planned to keep riding until winning a suitably big race on a suitable big race stage.
“It’s always been about big races. It doesn’t get any bigger here than that. When a decision is made in your head it’s easy enough to say it and I made it a good while ago. When I broke my leg in Cheltenham last year I felt I couldn’t do that again.
“Time moves on. I’ve done it for 24 years and I want to do something else over the next 24,” he added.
Victory at his local track was an apt setting for someone used to hitting the heights the game has to offer on legendary horses such as Kauto Star, Hurricane Fly and Big Buck’s, but whose momentum has been impeded in recent years by some serious injuries.
“If there’s been a good horse there’s a good chance I rode them,” said Walsh before reciting a long list of other great names he’s partnered and typically boiling the reasons for his success down to: “I worked with the two best trainers, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls.”
He ruled out going training himself and instead said he will concentrate on media work including the Racing TV channel.
Mullins said Walsh’s decision was “out of the blue” and added that retirement hadn’t been discussed.
“The ‘R’ word is never discussed in our house, either for humans or horses!” joked the champion trainer.
“It’s the end of an era. What a career he’s had. He will be hugely missed and will leave a big hole in the yard. But hopefully we’ll be able utilise him in future,” he added.
Mullins said 28-year-old Paul Townend, who finished runner-up to Kemboy on the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo, and is set to be crowned this season’s champion jockey on Saturday, will step up to the No 1 job.
Walsh was acclaimed by his colleagues in the parade ring, including Davy Russell, one of his great rivals over the last 20 years.
“We’ve had some battles, with championships and everything else. But without a doubt he’s the best we’ve ever seen as a rider,” Russell said. “He made everybody else be better. I’m shocked actually. He’s riding so well. On top of everything he’s a gentleman.”
The former Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle winning rider Conor O’Dwyer was also wrong-footed by his friend’s decision.
“We had a chat about it a while ago and, you know Ruby, he doesn’t show much, but it was in his head,” he said.
“He is without a doubt the best I’ve seen. We had [Tony] McCoy and [John] Francome and many others but pound for pound he’s the best. His knowledge of what everyone else was going to do was different class.”
Nicholls trained Kauto Star and Walsh was aboard for each of his five King George VI Chase wins, as well as his Festival triumphs among numerous other wins.
He said: “The relationship with Kauto Star obviously particularly comes to mind. We had some amazing days with him, all the King Georges, the Gold Cups.
“We had some fantastic horses at that time – Denman, Neptune Collonges, Big Bucks, Master Minded – they were all just great days.
“I thought when I saw him ride that winner that I wouldn’t be surprised if he called it a day after that, and it’s just great to see him go out doing what he does best.
“He’s been a fantastic jockey, a fantastic ambassador for the sport and he’s just a great man. He’s one of the best jockeys ever to ride for us and will always be a friend.
“I just wish him all the best and I’m thrilled to see him go out like this, in one piece with no more injuries.”