Sport Horse Racing

Monday 21 October 2019

I miss race riding but I am very happy with my decision - Walsh

Katie Walsh with husband Ross O’Sullivan and Baie Des Iles at their base near Kill, County Kildare. Photo: Patrick McCann
Katie Walsh with husband Ross O’Sullivan and Baie Des Iles at their base near Kill, County Kildare. Photo: Patrick McCann
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

It takes a lot to hoodwink Katie Walsh as she can usually sense a stitch-up but she arrived at the HRI awards earlier this month with the sole intention of presenting an award to the retiring Turf Club senior medical officer Adrian McGoldrick.

Little did she know that she would instead be a recipient of the Irish Racing Hero award for her contribution as a jockey along with her sister-in-law Nina Carberry having hung up their saddles at this year's Punchestown Festival.

Fittingly, both exited on a winning note but the outpouring of emotion took Walsh - a three-time Cheltenham Festival winner - by surprise with a host of letters, cards and flowers coming her way.

Changed

Very little has changed in the 33-year-old's life since she stopped race riding eight months ago, however, and she still works at home with her dad Ted while helping her husband Ross O'Sullivan in his Kildare yard.

She still rides work for Willie Mullins most Tuesdays when he brings horses to the Curragh - "that's part of my life and something I love doing so it doesn't feel like work" - while she dabbles with some buying and selling of younger horses.

Katie is on her way home from Cork after Sunday's point-to-point in Boulta when she takes a call having watched Thunder And Roses - a horse she won the Irish Grand National with in 2015 - come home a promising second.

Part of her wished she could have been aboard again but while she misses her days as an amateur jockey, she insists she made the right choice with the next chapter of her life on the horizon.

"I miss it, I'm not going to say I don't, I do but I'm very happy with my decision.

"I think there's a couple of happy people, my parents were happy, my husband was happy. I was very lucky, I got very few falls and it was nice to go out on my own terms," Walsh says.

"It was a decision that I made myself and something that I wasn't forced to do.

"There are still people that watch the Bumper that say 'God, I still turn on the bumper to see if you're riding one' but I'm afraid that won't be happening again."

Walsh achieved the highest-placed finish by any female rider in Aintree Grand National history when third aboard Seabass for her father in 2012 but she never felt like a female jockey.

"The whole world has changed down from generation to generation and it's come a long way with regards to males and females but for us, it was just about riding. We never saw any different," Walsh says.

"We never got treated any different than the lads in the weigh room nor would we treat them any different either. When a trainer rang you to look for you to ride one in the Bumper, he wasn't calling because you were male or female.

"He was calling you because he wanted to get a job done and thought you were the best fit to do that. That's what it boils down to and it's a great industry for that. There are a lot of women with high-powered roles in racing."

Jennifer Pugh replaces McGoldrick in the coming weeks while Rachael Blackmore is flying as a professional rider and lies second in the Irish jockeys' championship with a century of winners in her sights this season.

The footprints left by the likes of Walsh and Carberry have helped pave the way for these and many other women to follow and Ireland's diverse racing landscape is a testament to their trailblazing.

Irish Independent

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