Ruby Walsh seeks more Grade One Punchestown glory

Klassical Dream bids to become fourth since 1990 to complete festival double

It's 20 years since Ruby Walsh first hit the Grade One bullseye at the Punchestown festival and the renowned rider can mark that anniversary in top-flight style on Tuesday.

Back in 1999, Imperial Call’s Punchestown Gold Cup victory put a perfect seal on the then 19-year-old’s first jockey’s championship winning season. Since then he has been champion jockey 11 more times and been leading rider at the festival on a record 14 occasions.

An overhaul tally of 45 Grade One wins at the Punchestown festival includes superstar horses such as Hurricane Fly and Quevega who’ve contributed to Walsh’s special relationship at what he regards as his local track. The depth of that attachment was reflected when once pitched the question as to how he’d eventually like to quit.

I'm like a bad smell – I'm going nowhere

“I’d love to get off one in Punchestown, pull the saddle off and tell Willie [Mullins] that I won’t be out for the next one. That’s how I would do it if I had my choice,” Walsh replied before pointing out how choice is no given when you’re a jump jockey.


It’s a precarious occupation that means there isn’t much choice either about having to deal with retirement queries when your 40th birthday is a fortnight away. Walsh’s willingness this season to pass up many everyday mounts in order to allow Paul Townend pursue the jockeys championship has paid off for his younger colleague. Inevitably it has also provoked speculation he might even choose this week’s season climax to indeed pull off the saddle one last time and have a word with his great ally.

Offer of riches

Rather more exuberant celebrations than usual after winning on Min at Aintree earlier have wound up being parsed for meaning, just as his Irish National win on Burrows Saint last week was.

Walsh’s response has been typically defiant. “I’m like a bad smell – I’m going nowhere,” he told one of his sponsors last week.

It's not hard to see why. Richard Johnson will be 42 in July having just been crowned champion jockey in Britain for a fourth time in a row. Noel Fehily's recent retirement came when he was 43. Both men have operated cross-channel where travel demands alone are much greater than here.

Walsh is spared that, has stated that recent injuries over the last couple of years have left him hungrier for success than ever, and there are riches on offer in the Mullins yard that are the envy of every other jockey.

On Tuesday, Min looks to have a gilt-edged opportunity to add to that stylish Liverpool victory in the featured €300,000 Boylesports Champion Chase. If Walsh might have briefly hesitated, and consulted the Met Office, before opting for Min over the wonderful veteran Un De Sceaux, no such hesitation was likely about Klassical Dream.

He bids to become just the fourth horse since 1990 to complete the double of Cheltenham’s Supreme and Punchestown’s Herald Champion Novice Hurdle. Klassical Dream left such an impression in the Supreme that he’s already an 8-1 second favourite in some ante-post lists for the 2020 Champion Hurdle. Much of the craft and experience Walsh has built up over the years were evidenced at Cheltenham last month.

Klassical Dream’s exuberance looked at one stage likely to compromise his chance. However a containing ride from the front eventually saw him run out an impressive winner. His stable companions Aramon and Quick Grabim are also Grade One winners this season. Another stylish success however is likely to only cement Walsh’s determination to go nowhere anytime soon.

Getabird is his third Grade One spin on Tuesday and a return to the scene of this free-going sort’s Beginners Chase victory could be significant. His only subsequent start was at Limerick over Christmas when a final fence mistake cost Getabird dearly.

Third time lucky

The top-flight standard here though is set by the dual-Grade One winner Delta Work. He lost his unbeaten record over fences in Cheltenham’s RSA when third to Topofthegame. In itself it was still a fine effort although leaving the impression Delta Work might have emerged on top if the race could be run again.

The intriguing element to this however is how A Plus Tard is officially rated 1lb his superior after a sixteen length handicap rout that provided Rachael Blackmore with her first Cheltenham festival success.

That indicated the five year old is rapidly on the upgrade and conceding 5lbs to his younger rival might be beyond Delta Work. Co Cork based Rober Tyner throws three at the €100,000 Goffs Land Rover Bumper, a race he’s won twice in the last three years.

Derek O’Connor was on board for Vision Des Flos in 2017 and the veteran rider is on the €50,000 purchase Fiston de Becon this time. Front View had a thankless task chasing home Blue Sari at Gowran in January before unfortunately getting brought down when going well at Naas a month later. JP McManus’s runner can make it third time lucky in the concluding bumper.

Punchestown: 3.40 – Youncannotbeserious, 4.20 – Klassical Dream, 4.55 – La Sorelita, 5.30 – Min, 6.05 – Fiston de Becon, 6.40 – A Plus Tard, 7.15 – Front View (Nap), Nap and Double Front View & A Plus Tard

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column