Tuesday 21 May 2019

Ruby cut from a different cloth

Weird Wide World of Sport

Dave Devereux

It was wholly fitting that Ruby Walsh decided to hang up his saddle after a glittering career on the same day that Barcelona's Lionel Messi sparkled against Liverpool in the Champions League.

In fact Tony McCoy, the most successful jockey of all times in terms of winners, described the 39-year-old as 'the best jockey I've ever seen', comparing his genius to what the diminutive Argentinean does on a football field.

With the 39-year-old Kildare man picking and choosing his rides carefully this season after suffering a litany of injuries throughout his career, everybody knew the end was nigh, but it still came as a surprise when he retired with immediate effect after steering Kemboy to victory in typically stylish fashion in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

He dictated the race from the front, and in the days following his retirement many in the game have lauded his superb judgement of pace as one of his many assets.

He was equally as brilliant when holding up a horse, as he always seemed to be able to get his mount into the perfect rhythm, before pouncing at the exact right moment to power past the winning line.

Whereas his friend and rival Tony McCoy was all about numbers, and reeling off winner after winner, Ruby was always the man for the big occasion, and his staggering record of 59 Cheltenham Festival winners is testament to that.

That number includes two Gold Cups, four Champion Hurdles, three Champion Chases and five Stayers' Hurdles, and he was crowned top jockey at the festival an incredible eleven times.

Of course, Walsh will humbly say it's all down to the horses he rode, having steered the likes of Kauto Star, Denman, Hurricane Fly, Big Buck's, Master Minded, Quevega and Faugheen to victory, but you don't get to sit on equine stars of that calibre unless you're blessed with supreme talent and an ability to be ice-cool in the intense pressure cooker of battle.

It wasn't all about the famous track in the heart of the Cotswolds though, as he was crowned Irish champion jockey twelve times and the highlight of his career was in the Aintree Grand National in 2000, when he guided Papillon to victory for his father, Ted.

There was nobody better at delivering in the big races as he could keep his head when all around him were losing theirs.

However, all jockeys, no matter how good, have to have their low points and Ruby certainly had those too.

Annie Power coming down at the last in the Mares' Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival in 2015, denying Ruby an incredible four-timer after Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen had all obliged, was costly for punters, but that's racing, the obstacles have to be jumped.

Plenty were quick to call him a crook and far worse on social media, and still spout bile to this day, but the irony is that one of the most striking things about Walsh has always been his honesty.

Sometimes that may make him appear gruff, but he's a man who tells it like it is and wears his heart on his sleeve, and those who accuse him of jumping off a horse at 35 miles per hour to save the bookmakers' bacon should really consider finding a new hobby instead of backing horses.

Of course, his association with Paddy Power bookmakers in recent years has helped to stoke the conspiracy theorist's fires, and having jockeys on the payroll at gambling firms is something that should be looked at by the powers-that-be.

Then again, Robbie Power has a similar role with BoyleSports and you rarely, if ever, hear his integrity questioned.

It's just that Ruby is Ruby, and he was always held to different standards than the rest, given the dominance of the Walsh/Mullins partnership in recent times and his past exploits with English powerhouse Paul Nicholls.

Walsh was always the Messi of the horse racing world and McCoy was the Ronaldo.

They're both sublime at what they do, but one is more reliant on power and strength and the other on finesse and silky skills.

Most young footballers want to play like Messi and to do the things on the ball that he does, while the lion's share of aspiring jockeys should want to emulate what Ruby did in the saddle.

Similar to McCoy before him and those in other spheres, like the irreplaceable Usain Bolt, we'll only truly appreciate him now that he's gone.

We really should savour every moment of watching stars like Messi, Ronaldo, Federer, Woods and O'Sullivan while they're still competing, because when they exit stage left from the sporting world there will be a massive void that may never be filled.

The Cheltenham Festival just won't be the same without Ruby.

Gorey Guardian