Having called time on his career last May he is preparing for his first Cheltenham Festival out of the saddle. Ruby Walsh sat down with Express Sport to the festival and the role he will play in horse racing going forward.
Q Given the panic around Coronavirus there were doubts about the Festival getting the green light. You must be delighted common sense won out?
Like everyone else we have a responsibility to try and contain the spread. Wash our hands etc etc. But I am also a believer as much as possible the world has to keep moving. Even if things are run behind closed doors we keep running. Business keeps going and sport is a business as well as a past-time.
Q You retired last May as the most successful Festival jockey of all time with 52 wins. You were leading jockey 11 times in 21 seasons but you have said you won’t miss it. Explain?
People ask me whether I will miss it and my answer is no.. Will I miss the walk back down the chute? Or walking back into the parade ring while everybody is clapping? Sure. Everybody misses that. But to have that you have to actually ride the horse and put in all the work to get there. I don’t miss that.
Q So have you piled on the pounds since May?
Not that much no. I had a pretty good diet when I was riding and I have stuck with it, maybe through habit or way of life. I only used to eat twice a day and I still do. Still ride out three or four days a week at Willie Mullins yard. I have given up schooling horses but I ride out plenty.
Q You have swapped the saddle for the mic.
I work with Racing TV in the mornings and ITV in the afternoons. It is easy talking about good horses and Cheltenham. Talking about midweek racing is harder but this is a joy.
Q Difficult to know where to start but what have been your Festival highlights?
Commanche Court winning the Triumph Hurdle for my father (Ted) in 1997. Norman Williamson rode him and I only led him up but that was a huge success for the family and meant a huge amount. My first winner in 1998 on Alexander Banquet (in the Bumper) was amazing. Kauto Star winning the Gold Cup in 2007The day Hurricane Fly won his first Champion Hurdle, Al Ferof won the Supreme and Quevega the Mares on the opening day in 2011. I was back from injury having been out a long time but Paul (Nicholls) and Willie put me straight back on the big horses and to deliver that day meant a huge amount.
Q What was it that made you good in the big races?
Horses. Simple as that. Good horses were easy to ride. I enjoyed the pressure and the excitement. Big meetings excited me. In fact I didn’t see it as pressure I just felt grateful I was riding good ones.
Q What are you most looking forward to this week?
Where to start? The Champion Chase. Three horses in Alitior, Defi De Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi that nobody can split. Whichever of Nico (De Boinville), Barry (Geraghty) or Paul (Townend) wins will get a monumental kick out of that. If I had to choose, I would ride Chacun because of my allegiance to Willie (Mullins) but it is a fascinating race. Another would be Honeysuckle and Benie Des Deux in the Mares (on Tuesday) and A Plus Tard, Min and Frodon in the Ryanair (on Thursday). Cheltenham delivers year on year with great races spread across all the days.
Q What about the rest of the Championship races
Champion Hurdle is so open but I think Epatante. For me Paisley Park will win the Stayers Hurdle and the more I look at the Gold Cup the more I think Al Boum Photo can regain his crown.
Q Anything else on your betting slip?
I am just a social punter. My idea of a bet is a life-changing Lucky15 – the ones that don’t ever come off! The Arkle looks open but I think the Irish novices hold the upper hand and Envoi Allen is a special horse running in the Ballymore Novices (Wednesday)
Q – Will it be a gruelling week socially for you?
I will probably answer that better for you next week than this week but I have only ever been there as a competitor so my friends tell me for the first time after this week I will really know what Cheltenham is now and how long a week it is!
Ruby Walsh is a pundit on Racing TV – the only place to watch every Cheltenham Festival race, live and uninterrupted. Visit racingtv.com or call 0844 472 5566 for more.
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