herald

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Ruby is happy to change his focus and be a team player

Injury has changed Walsh's priorities as Limerick is his venue of choice today

NORMAL SERVICE RESUMED: Relegate and Ruby Walsh, with his boss Willie Mullins, after winning the two-mile mares’ maiden hurdle at Naas last week. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post
NORMAL SERVICE RESUMED: Relegate and Ruby Walsh, with his boss Willie Mullins, after winning the two-mile mares’ maiden hurdle at Naas last week. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post

November 18, 2017 - a fractured right tibia (15 weeks out). Eleven days back, March 14, 2018 - refractured right tibia (nearly 20 weeks out). Almost one month back, August 25, 2018, injured ribs (eight weeks out).

Ruby Walsh, the greatest National Hunt jockey of his generation, and arguably of all time, with an incredible tally of 203 Grade 1 winners, has endured the perils of being a jump jockey over the last 13 months or so.

But Walsh has spent his life in a sport of hard knocks so you won't get the 39-year-old looking for sympathy.

That above list of injuries forced Walsh to be a spectator at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival 12 months ago, the Dublin Racing Festival, half of Cheltenham, then Aintree's Grand National meeting, Fairyhouse's Grand National meeting, Punchestown plus plenty more. Not easy viewing when your job is to be on the back of the champion trainer's first string.

"I don't know if this has been any harder, recovery is recovery, but it definitely doesn't get any easier," Walsh said of his latest return from a fall in Killarney last August.

It's still hard to believe that Walsh won't have 100 rides in Ireland this calendar year. Between November and December of 2016, he had 102 rides in those two months alone. The Killarney fall was a real blow.

"There are certain parts of your body that you have to respect the doctors and what they tell you," he admits.

"You'll chance riding with a broken wrist, but (after Killarney) there was bruising around the back of my vertebrae, around the outside of my spinal canal, and they wanted that bruising to go away before they'd let me ride again.

Spine

"I suppose your spine is like your brain - they are the only two things doctors can't fix - so you have to listen and do what you are told when they are injured."

The summer months are deemed to be a better time of year for a jumps jockey to be injured as it is from now until spring and rolling on to Punchestown in April that we get to the real nitty-gritty. For Walsh now, though, the obvious focus is just trying to remain off the injured list.

GRADE ONE: Getabird is running at Limerick today. Photo: Racing Post
GRADE ONE: Getabird is running at Limerick today. Photo: Racing Post

Walsh doesn't suffer from the same reliance of being champion jockey as his old pal AP McCoy did during his career, but when you win something 12 times it becomes a natural target at the start of every season. He does thrive on winners and being champion jockey means a season of more winners than anyone else. But not this term.

Maybe six or seven years ago, backed up by the Willie Mullins artillery, Walsh would have fancied the challenge of gunning down Paul Townend, Rachael Blackmore and Davy Russell after giving them a hefty headstart due to his summer absence, but now the Kildare native is wise enough to know the risk outweighs the reward.

"That last injury means I have no chance of being champion jockey," Walsh bemoaned. "I missed another eight weeks on top of what I missed at the start of the season and those accumulative winners that you'd ride, maybe two or three a week, aren't there so the numbers just don't add up any more."

Walsh has 25 winners to his name this season and with only 77 rides for the campaign, he is operating at a 32pc strike rate, the highest of any professional this season.

But Paul Townend is undoubtedly benefiting from Walsh's more selective nature.

Selfish

MOUNT: Bellshill should be Ruby Walsh’s partner in the Savills Chase on Friday. Photo: Racing Post
MOUNT: Bellshill should be Ruby Walsh’s partner in the Savills Chase on Friday. Photo: Racing Post

"I can't be be champion jockey, but Paul Townend can. We work in the same place and all I can do is stop him being champion jockey and I'm not that selfish," said Ruby.

A bit like the All Stars on the Dublin bench who Jim Gavin decides to finish with rather than start with, Walsh has to come to terms with a slightly different role this season.

He said: "Nobody likes not riding winners, but you realise that you are part of a team. You have to give a little too. Everyone has to be pulling together. You have to be grown up about it."

Townend leads Rachael Blackmore by one winner going into the Christmas period and that championship has been an interesting narrative this season due to Walsh's absence.

"It'll be interesting," Walsh agrees. "But they are all only one fall away from having no chance. The risk of injury is so high. It's an event now, but it could be a non-event by the end of Christmas."

This week will be slightly different for Walsh. Limerick is the venue of choice today.

The last time he was down there on St Stephen's Day the popular One Man was winning his second King George.

The future champion jockey was still claiming 3lb at the time and finished third in a bumper for Willie Mullins.

He'll be hoping the trip down the road today will yield a bit more success than that as the track hosts a Grade One contest for the first time.

"The fact that Ruby is going to Limerick to ride him (Getabird) in the Grade One on Wednesday tells you all you need to know," was Willie Mullins' one liner on Getabird last Saturday.

The Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite of last season flopped at Cheltenham, but he is odds on to beat six rivals and maintain his unbeaten record over fences today.

"I thought he was good in Punchestown. I thought he jumped super, going right-handed suits him. I think stepping up in trip will suit him. I thought there was a lot to like about him," Walsh said of Getabird.

Excites

Leopardstown is his likely base for the next three days and Footpad is "definitely" the horse that excites him most.

Walsh travelled to Sandown to ride Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek earlier this month and both horse and rider were lauded for making a race of it against Altior.

Minor honours were the reward then, so now it's time to try another Closutton resident who can try and topple Altior. Footpad is Walsh's best chance, but he didn't rule out Mullins having two hopefuls in the Champion Chase.

"Altior has beaten everything else we have so we are looking for one that might be able to beat him!" Walsh laughed. "Altior has beaten Min twice, he has beaten Un De Sceaux so Footpad and Great Field are the only two-mile chasers we have left to take him on."

Footpad was a final fence faller on his seasonal return at Naas, but he looked held at the time by Saint Calvados, following some uncharacteristic jumping errors.

"Footpad is in great nick," Walsh stated. "One broken egg doesn't spoil the omelette. If you were to write every horse off after one bad day, there wouldn't be many left competing so you'd have to forgive Footpad one mishap.

"Nothing went right for him in Naas that day. From the third fence on he was on the back foot and I think he'll leave that behind him at Leopardstown. There is depth to his form when you go back over it and that usually adds up."

The first of Walsh's three rides at Limerick today is a rare one for JP McManus on Mixmoon. The owner's retained rider arrangements means that Walsh's name doesn't really come up for Great Field, who has become Jody McGarvery's ride of late, but he could not only be a danger to Footpad but possibly Altior too.

Walsh said: "Great Field is a fair horse. He's a bold jumper, he attacks the fences and he was unlucky in Cork when he over-jumped. He hasn't been beaten (when completing over fences) so it's like Altior, how do you know how good they are until something beats them? He is a dark horse. He's a very good horse."

Mount

Punchestown Gold Cup winner Bellshill is Walsh's most likely mount in the Savills Chase on Friday, a race in which Mullins could have five runners.

The retirement question was posed to Walsh as he sat with members of the press last week. We were never going to get an exclusive there. Walsh insists it hasn't crossed his mind.

Whenever it does he is more likely to depart like his sister Katie, on a winner without the world having advance warning rather than a farewell tour like McCoy.

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