Tipping Point: Ruby Walsh trolls show the ugly side of Twitter
There was much vile abuse on Twitter after the champion jockey broke his leg on Saturday
Ruby Walsh: He will miss at least four months of action, and his whole winter will be built around getting back in time for Cheltenham. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
If you ever want to acquaint yourself with the worst people, have a scroll through Twitter whenever a horse ridden by Ruby Walsh has a fall.
Even as the champion jockey was in the back of an ambulance on Saturday heading to Tallaght Hospital for treatment on the fourth leg break of his career, the pond life on social media was raising itself to its full slouch and calling him names.
As long as there is racing, there will be punters who blame jockeys, trainers, bookmakers and the world. Still, it takes a ridiculous leap of imagination to get to a point where any jockey – least of all the best, most high-profile of them – would voluntarily subject himself to a deliberate fall. Indeed, it’s self-evidently ridiculous to even have to commit that to print. But such are the rabbit holes Twitter brings you down these days.
On Saturday afternoon Walsh rode four races at Punchestown and had a winner and three falls. The third of them, on 4/9 favourite Let’s Dance, earned him a broken tibia and a kick in the side of the head from one of the other horses in the field. He will miss at least four months of action and his whole winter will be built around getting back in time for Cheltenham.
Even before any of the gory details were known, Twitter was predictably Twitterish about the Let’s Dance fall.
“Delighted for Ruby Walsh the absolute clown,” said a charmer called @donnchaxx. “Shoot him #rubywalsh,” chimed @blacbloc.
And whatever about a few bottom-feeders shaking their fist at the sky from their sofa, a tipping service called The Winners Enclosure tweeted the following to its 184,048 followers: “Ruby Walsh at Punchestown today... 4 rides 3 falls 1 winner. Every (sic) so reliable.”
When multiple people got on to them to say that maybe slagging a jockey who had just broken his leg wasn’t in the best taste, the response was: “We tweeted this before the news so relax.” They didn’t delete it, much less apologise for it.
Far worse was to come after the broken leg was confirmed.
“Shame Ruby Walsh did not break both legs,” wrote @hvachi147.
“Ruby Walsh broke his leg I see my heart bleeds,” was the verdict of @Davidho57485540.
Most spectacular of all, a self-styled professional gambler called @SamDavisTheGr8 went with: “Good the corrupt p***k hope it never heals and he has to get an amputation #anniepower #neverforget #C**T.”
This is not a new phenomenon, of course. A particular strain of scumbaggery has attached itself to Walsh online over the past few years after a few falls on short-priced favourites – most famously Annie Power in 2015.
He even made it the basis of a bookmaker’s television ad ahead of last year’s Cheltenham festival, the set-up involving him showing up at the door of a fictional troll and taking him for a ride in the back of a jeep, eventually daring the lad to jump off when they got up to 40 miles per hour.
It was a funny ad, and you could see Walsh’s thinking in agreeing to it. It was his way of rising above it all, lampooning the bone-headed certainty of those ingrates who imagine there’s a percentage for the jockey in parting with a horse at that speed.
The funniest part was watching Ruby try to act, obviously. The day job will have to do him a while yet – word is Hollywood will be going with other options at this time.
Sometimes though, you have to stop a second and wonder how we got to this place. The ad was very knowing and maybe even a wee bit smug of itself. The subtext of it was essentially, “Ho, ho, ho, lads – sure isn’t it gas that people are cynical enough to think Ruby is throwing himself off these horses so that bookies can keep their edge over punters.” Laughing off stupidity is a time-worn way of overcoming it. Funny beats dumb every time.
Or at least it used to. These days it’s a tougher fight. Hidden in plain sight in that ad was a tacit recognition that on some level it is accepted that not everything you see in horse racing is to be believed. Nobody imagines a day goes by in racing without horses being pulled, their handicap marks minded, races within races happening that punters have no knowledge of or insight into. From that given inch the feeble-minded take a mile.
So goes the world. Ruby Walsh’s travails make for a small story from a tiny corner of a tiny sport on a minuscule patch of the planet but it’s not difficult to see the parallels in the wider world.
Everything from female politicians being abused online to the leader of the free world calling another nuclear powerbroker short and fat – it’s all disparate, ugly rage distilled and squirted in your eye through a 280-character lens.
Pop will eat itself in the end, surely. Twitter was a blast for a long time but it’s such a cesspit now. So unwelcoming, so confrontational, so drearily misinformative.
It’s hard to know why any famous person would bother with it, harder still to fathom why anyone under the age of 21 would get into it. Its days must surely to be numbered, at least in its current form.
Meanwhile, Walsh has four months to get his leg right for Cheltenham. Here’s wishing the trolls a cold winter, whoever they’re backing in his absence.