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What Katie did next

Motherhood and moving business online just some of challenges for Walsh in latest chapter of epic career

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GREAT DAY: Katie Walsh is led into the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham after victory aboard Relegate in the 2018 Bumper. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

GREAT DAY: Katie Walsh is led into the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham after victory aboard Relegate in the 2018 Bumper. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

GREAT DAY: Katie Walsh is led into the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham after victory aboard Relegate in the 2018 Bumper. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It says something about her lofty reputation within Irish racing circles that Katie Walsh was chosen to make a recent appearance on 'The Tommy Tiernan Show' and she knocked it out of the park alongside her father, and partner in crime, Ted.

She had one reservation before sitting into the hot seat - "is this interview going to be all about horses?" - but that was quickly extinguished as it took an unusual path and turned into "a general conversation that you'd have sitting down in a pub with someone".

While the Walsh family are steeped in racing, there's much more to them than just thoroughbreds and such is their work ethic, their hand could be thrown at anything with success sure to follow.

There's a memorable segment where Tiernan asks Ted to ponder his reaction had the comedian arrived back to the family home as Katie's boyfriend during his early 20s when he spent a number of years "finding himself" while drawing the dole in Galway.

Aghast

Ted was aghast at such a prospect with Katie quick to reveal that her dream man - she will be married to trainer Ross O'Sullivan seven years in July - would be "someone that wasn't afraid of work" and lives by the same principles as herself.

Derek 'Del Boy' Trotter from classic comedy 'Only Fools and Horses' once remarked that his father Reg "would've loved a job except he suffered from a sticky mattress" but laziness has never been on Walsh's radar, as her pregnancy last year confirms.

When she quit the saddle two years ago after a glittering amateur career, "the next chapter" was on her mind and baby girl Stevie arrived seven-and-a-half months ago, adding another ray of light to her life.

Katie is not the type to stay at home so Stevie, who arrived six weeks early, is a frequent visitor to the yard where Thousand Stars - the loveable grey which she became synonymous with after their Cheltenham Festival success in 2010 - often keeps an eye on her while mother Helen regularly babysits.

Pregnancy or not, Katie would keep doing what she loved most.

"No, I kept going," she says when asked if she took much time out after Stevie's birth last September. "We work for ourselves so there wasn't much time to take out and I was straight back at it. That's the way it is and that's the way I am.

"I don't know if I'd be able to just do nothing for six months either, I don't think there's anything wrong with it but I wouldn't be able to do that. She came a bit early so it was a shock at the time because I was giving myself about six weeks to get organised.

"That went out the window and I figured that when she came early that she was telling me that I had to go to the (yearling) sales. So I packed up and went off to the sales as soon as she came. I kind of reckoned that it was a sign to go shopping.

"I was back riding out maybe two weeks after, I was mad to get going. I was bringing her to the yard every day and sure it's part and parcel of it, I hadn't done it for a long time and I couldn't wait to get going. It doesn't feel like work, it's a way of life."

The original dates for the 2020 Punchestown Festival passed without comment last week - another event lost to the coronavirus - and it was a particularly strange sensation given the events at the Walsh's home track in Kildare over the past two years.

In 2018, it was Katie who departed the weighing room in memorable fashion with a winner, while older brother Ruby exited stage left 12 months ago after Kemboy bookended a stellar riding career by landing the Punchestown Gold Cup.

Katie "had achieved everything" she had wanted as a jockey and "it wasn't going to get any better" so the time was right to walk away while the injuries which dogged the latter stages of Ruby's days in the saddle were a distant memory when his flag finally came down.

Heading to Cheltenham last March to work for BBC Radio 5 Live while Ruby was working in front of the camera as an ITV pundit meant that the Cotswolds had a "completely different feel" this year and part of her even had to justify the trip.

Cheltenham has never been a social occasion, strictly her workplace, so opportunities to ride out for Willie Mullins in the morning were welcomed with open arms, as was the relief to be watching the equine action without having to worry for Ruby's safety. "You're so used to seeing him maybe heading out on a hotpot or maybe after getting a fall and going out on one and hoping that this might be a change of luck. It's different. Is it more enjoyable? It probably is more enjoyable now," she reveals.

"I loved watching him and to go to Cheltenham with such a good book of rides, it was a great career that he had but it was hard work and it was hard going for him. It was lovely to have been part of it and for him to allow us to be part of it and get the kick out of it.

"But towards the end and with a couple of those falls, I even found it hard, never mind my parents or his wife Gillian or the girls (his three daughters) and that.

"There was a time there (at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival) when he hit the ground and broke his leg again off Al Boum Photo and I felt so sorry for him, it was just like, 'When is this going to stop?'

"No one deserves to go out the way he did but I wouldn't have liked to see him go out through injury, I thought it was maybe going to be hard for him to pick himself up again and put all the work back into getting back to a point after that fall but he did an amazing job.

"To go out the way he did, he got the best of both worlds, he got to go out on his own terms. You can't be, 'Oh I want, I want, I want', you have to be like, 'That was enough now, let's just look back and say Jesus wasn't that great?'"

While just 35, Katie has already packed plenty into her life and always adopts the "I'm only here the once so I try to give it a kicking, get my hands and my head stuck into whatever I can and see what happens" approach and she sensed an opportunity during lockdown.

With nearly 20 two-year-olds to be sold but no breeze-up sales to showcase them, she decided to develop a state-of-the-art website along with her sister and business partner Jennifer (as well as "techie" husband Killian) where possible buyers could see the goods from afar.

Katie "can barely send an email" and the website was made "foolproof" so that her and Ted could work it with ease. The Greenhills Farm breeze-up operation (greenhillsfarmbloodstock.com) is setting the standard in terms of providing shop windows to potential clients in unprecedented times with extensive video packages of each lot available to view online.

"It gives people the opportunity that if they do like something, when the restrictions ease up they might decide to come and have a look maybe before the sales start and what not. There was no harm putting it up as a lot of people are inside.

"People are tipping around online and having a look so I might as well get them out there and let people have a look at the individuals and the pedigrees involved. They can see what they like and there has been good bit of activity with several people in touch," she outlines.

The noise of her nieces painting and chatting in the background is a familiar one during the call, as is the noise of Ted down the other end of the phone as he rings from the fields to check on something in the yard. The pair have simply become inseparable over the years.

"He's 70 and the older he gets the more he's like, 'I can do whatever I want because I'm 70' and he has that mentality. He could maybe choose his words a bit better but that's him and he won't change, he calls it as it is. He's a great man, a great father, and we're lucky to have him."

Katie's career finished with three Cheltenham Festival successes to her name as well as Irish Grand National glory in 2015 but when her and sister-in-law Nina Carberry retired in successive days, it looked like the days of marquee women jockeys may be at a close.

Up stepped the brilliant Rachael Blackmore, however, and the Tipperary pilot has ripped up the narrative of what was deemed possible for lady jockeys against their male counterparts with Katie effusive in her praise for the 30-year-old.

"She has improved which is key and she is still improving. She doesn't think she knows it all and you can't ever think that or think that you're at your best. She has taken every single opportunity she got and made the most out of it," Walsh says.

"And when she made a mistake she was the first one to say, 'I wasn't great there'. You can't go saying, 'Oh he did this, he did that'. Not good enough. 'Well such and such cut me off'. Well you should have seen it coming. She's the first person to be, 'That wasn't my finest hour and that won't happen again'.

"She's an inspiration to be around, a breath of fresh air and the best of craic.

"There's a lot of people that work really hard in that weighing room and they just need a bounce of the ball in their favour. It's bounced right for her and she caught it."

Such is her rise in recent years, Blackmore stands out as a beacon of hope for female riders that they can break the glass ceiling and soar in Grade One company with Walsh marvelling at her ability to break boundaries while still staying true to herself, most importantly.

"She knows that she's definitely more appealing than someone who is the exact same as her because she's female, that's not her fault. She has a responsibility to the sport to look after it and promote it in the best light, she's doing a great job.

Accepted

"But she just wants to be accepted the same way as Nina and myself wanted to be and be respected by the lads in the weighing room, which she is and she doesn't want to be going around being someone that she's not.

"She's trying to showcase that if you work hard, male or female, this is where you could end up but she also wants to be able to walk into the weighing room each day and go, 'Hiya lads, how's it going?' and she doesn't want the lads curled up in the corner looking at her saying, 'Look at this one, what a pain in the you know what.'

"She shares lifts with those lads every day and goes racing with them three or four days a week,chatting to them and looking at them every day. Rachael is not shoving it down people's throats because that's not nice and racing people don't like it.

"Irish people don't like it. They just like the kind of underdog, the unassuming getting the job done without shoving it down your throat and that's what Rachael is doing. She has power and she's using it very well, very professionally and she's brilliant."

Walsh is used to the underdog tag herself and even in retirement, she will do whatever it takes to get the job done and overcome the odds, no matter how sizeable they may seem.