Five minutes with Cheltenham legend Ruby Walsh ahead of the Festival

Ask most horse racing fans what they’ll miss this year and it’s going to the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

Second on the list for many is legendary jockey Ruby Walsh, now he has retired from competing.

A punters’ pal for many years, he celebrated a record 59 winners at the top class fixture, taking the top jockey award on 11 occasions.

His haul of 2,756 successes in his 24-year career included at least two renewals of the ‘championship’ contests during the week.

Following his retirement on May 1, 2019, Walsh successfully turned his hand to punditry, to the delight of many racing supporters.

Here the Paddy Power ambassador tells Mirror Racing about life in and out of the saddle…

What was your favourite Cheltenham moment as a jockey and why?

Winning the Gold Cup on Kauto Star in 2007. It was a race I always dreamed of winning as a kid and for it to come true was amazing.

Ruby Walsh aboard Kauto Star, one of the bet racehorses of all-time

And worst?

When John Thomas “JT” McNamara had a bad fall in the Kim Muir at the 2013 Festival, that was my worst memory of the meeting. You could sense in the immediate aftermath the seriousness of the situation and feel the atmosphere in the weighing room.

What was the best horse you rode and why?

Kauto Star. He was beaten by Denman in the 2008 Gold Cup and it was great when he came back to win another one. He was an amazing horse to ride, to be able to win two Tingle Creeks as well showed how versatile he was. It was a moment to savour every time I got on him.

Which horse would you like to be riding this week and why?

Al Boum Photo. Triple Gold Cup winners are few and far between and he is on the verge of becoming one. Willie has minded him and so far he has got it right. It was a good enough performance when he won at Tramore (usual prep race for Cheltenham) and while there is new opposition in A Plus Tard and Champ, he is in great form the hat-trick bid.

Paul Townend celebrates winning the 2020 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo

Is there an outsider/longshot that you fancy this week that may have gone under the radar?

Galopin Des Champs in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. He’s a big price but stepping up in trip will suit.

What one thing would you change about racing?

Implement a sounder financial structure for the whole industry – it’s not just a prize money issue.

Ruby Walsh pictured at Cheltenham in his race-riding days

Who was your closest friend in the weighing room when you were riding?

David Casey in Ireland, he still works with me at Willie’s yard. In the UK, it would be AP (McCoy), we used different valets so didn’t sit close together. He set a very high standard by actions rather than words.

What do you miss the most about riding?

The only thing I miss is winning. It was a great life and I was lucky enough to live it. In the build-up to Cheltenham there was always anticipation, nerves and pressure. You are in a bubble also with the excitement and stress of the big occasion.

Ruby Walsh’s final Cheltenham Festival winner, Klassical Dream

What would you like to have done if you had not been a jockey?

I don’t know if I would have been capable of much. In a different world, maybe architecture. I wouldn’t know where to start, but it would be something I would be interested in learning more about.

Is there a young jockey who you think might go all the way to the top?

There are loads. I’m not going to put pressure on any of them as there’s enough of that.

How do you relax?

Not very well. Having dinner and a glass of wine with my wife when our four daughters are in bed. They are 11, nine, six and three. They have ponies so have been lucky in lockdown to ride them. It’s good to watch although a bit nerve-wracking at times.

Hurricane Fly was one of the best horses Ruby Walsh teamed up with
Hurricane Fly was one of the best horses Ruby Walsh teamed up with

What’s your favourite ever film?


Do you have a favourite band?

I’m not very musical, whatever is on the radio. As a jockey you spend a long time in the car listening to it.

What makes you angry?

Lots of things. Most of all, lazy people.

What makes you sad?

If any of my family aren’t happy.

What makes you happy?

The opposite of the last question.

Have you got a favourite joke (keep it clean)?

No. I wouldn’t be known for my comical side.

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