A legend in his own lifetime who was even immortalised in a song, it’s impossible to talk about horse racing without mentioning Ruby Walsh – the Irishman who has dominated the track and helped fill out wallets over the past few years. But who is he and how has he become so successful?
Who is Ruby Walsh?
Travel anywhere in the UK and Ireland and you’ll struggle to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Ruby Walsh. Born in Kildare in 1979, racing is in his family’s blood. Walsh’s father was an acclaimed jump champion and his sister Katie has been tipped to become the first female winner of the Grand National. Walsh excelled from an early age, riding his first racehorse at the age of 12 and catching the eye of the famous Willie Mullins for his fearless, skilful riding when breaking out as an amateur.
His career began where most jockeys dream of finishing: claiming victory at the Grand National in his very first attempt. Unsurprisingly, Walsh considers this to be the proudest moment of his entire career and it catapulted him straight into the spotlight. Unfortunately, the gods have conspired against him ever since, and has missed his chance to race four times over the last six years – once breaking his wrist the day before he was due to race!
Such unassailable talent attracts a team of equal calibre. For many, Ruby’s name is synonymous with his famous partnership with Mullins; a racing veteran, six-time champion and trainer of national winner Hedgehunter. Champion hunt trainer Paul Nicholls has also been a long-standing presence in Walsh’s career, providing Ruby with some of the best bloodstock in existence.
Despite being one of the highest performing racers in the sport, there has been some criticism levelled against Ruby Walsh. Fiercely practical and analytical, he has been criticised in the past for his forthright opinions about the connection between riders and horses and how the latter can be easily replaced after a fall or injury. For race-fans, this was seen to go against the romance of the sport but it did highlight a brutal and unpleasant truth about racing that Walsh knows all too well.
Further criticism levelled against Walsh comes from both stat-crunchers and semi-habitual punters – he is notorious for failing to clear the final hurdle in many races. Walsh has an extremely high unseating rate when compared to other leading riders which, at the time of writing, is placed at around 5.3%. This volatility has put a pin into many punter’s bets and many have tried to get to the bottom of why this is. Some believe it is due to an underestimation or overestimation of his own abilities coming into the final stretch. Other consider the training regimes of the horses he rides. Or that his long-term win rate means that his record of success reaching the end fence is unprecedented at such a high level. But these are complaints pale against a track record that any jockey would be envious of.
So, plain speaking, hard-working and immensely gifted, it is inarguable that Walsh is a goliath in the sport; and one who is hopefully around a little longer to help make his fans a bit of money.
What Are His Greatest Sporting Achievements?
Three Nationals: After his first win at the Grand National in 1998, Walsh stacked up win after win, culminating in the historic period between 2004 – 05 when he took the Irish, Welsh and the English nationals. This not only crushed any doubts that luck was involved in his meteoric rise, but the three horses ridden all proved to be Grand National winners in the years to come.
Cheltenham: Not other race has seen greater success from Walsh, who has become a regular and immensely popular fixture at the event. He has gone on to stack up a staggering total of 56 winners at the event and continues to regularly return to claim his purse.
And the list goes on: It should come as no shock that a talent such as Walsh has clocked up some impressive number from his successes; riding over 2000 winners over the course of his career. Take a look at his ‘big race wins’ on the racing post, you’ll be scrolling for days!
What Makes Him Unique?
He is unstoppable: Every professional jockey is going to pick up an injury or two, but Walsh is famous for his ability to take a pasting and bounce back. Along with his previously mentioned wrist-fracture, Walsh has broken his leg twice – once would be a death knell for a horse and twice is considered to be career ending for any normal jockey. He has gone on to suffer a litany of injuries throughout his career, including a dislocated hip, a cracked vertebrae, and a ruptured spleen that saw him get back on the horse in under four weeks. While such resilience is partially genetic and partly down to him getting the best care in the sport, it’s always a good idea to look for a rider who is not willing to leave too long getting back on the track.
For the jump: Bearing the above in mind, horse-racing is a terrifying proposition for any rider. Jockeys often have to shed protective fat and muscle to make sure that they carry as little weight as possible. Walsh famously has nerves of steel and has no fear when it comes to getting back on the horse…or taking criticism. With the rise of Twitter and other social media, Walsh has taken a pasting from any number of punters and he is always happy to give as good as he gets. Most recently, Ruby collaborated with Paddy Power to create a video dealing with one such tweeter who criticised him of ‘jumping’ because he was scared to take fences. Cameras followed Walsh as he found out the troll’s home address and invited him out for a drive. This took a turn as Walsh promptly accelerated to 40mph – the same speed as a charging horse – and told the troll to jump out…unless he was too scared. Anyone who is willing to stick up for themselves and prove it on the track is worth a punt.
Insight: Walsh is famously analytical and has a phenomenal intuitive and mechanical understanding of the sport. A total perfectionist, he prepares extensively for his races brings a huge degree of polish and craft to the sport. This dedication to his craft is tempered by his having worked with the best trainers and coaches in the world.
So, if you’re placing a punt, always consider where the rider is from. Who have they worked with professionally, have they shown that they have learned from their mistakes in the past and – with social media and interviews – how do they prepare?