Thursday 19 September 2019

Billy Keane: 'Fitting finale but end of Golden Years is a sad day for racing'

Ruby celebrates after guiding Kauto Star to victory in the '08 King George Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire.
Ruby celebrates after guiding Kauto Star to victory in the '08 King George Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire.
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The news came through that Ruby had retired with immediate effect.

It was good that he went while he was still the best. It was so good that he retired on his own terms.

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It was even better that he retired after riding the winner of the Punchestown Gold Cup on his home track.

It was better again that he rode Kemboy for Willie Mullins, his boss for so many years.

The greatest jockey riding today has jumped the last. In the end he gave up. The game never gave him up.

Ruby had enough. "You'll never see me on a horse again," he said. Job done. Race run and won.

Ruby was bred to the game. His dad Ted had him up on a pony when Ruby had to be strapped in to the high chair.

There are some whose bravery is more down to ignorance of the consequences.

There's a permanent fearlessness in the Walshes. It's not that they didn't know the risks. Ruby said one time he could come from a race dead or paralysed.


I met him at the Ireland v All Blacks game in November. His daughters were with him and you just knew he was a daddy.

I knew then he was going to retire soon - knew by the way he minded his girls.

I think what he will miss most is the challenge to be the best. All the top ones have that eye for the fight.

And while there may be no ego, there is that recurrent trait in all the greats - I will not get beat.

Ruby is competitive beyond the norms even of top-class sport and to the point of obsession.

Maybe the measure of his success is the percentage of Ruby dreams that came true.

Some call it ambition. But the greats do dreams, and if Ruby was a dreamer by night, he was never a day-dreamer.

Ruby was eminently practical with the requisite degree of ruthlessness.

He worked hard. Harder than anyone. But most of all he had the intuition and the nerve and he trusted in himself to make the right call.

Ruby knew Ruby better than anyone and he always fought off the biggest threat of all.

Ruby whipped the doubting voice within with every thrilling win.

So what then, did the young kid from Kill dream of?

Was it riding more Cheltenham winners than any other jockey?

Did he dream of becoming champion jockey?

Did the boy on the pony ever imagine he would ride the winner of the Aintree Grand National for his dad?

Was it in his teeming teenage head that some day he would ride some of the best horses of his or any other epoch?

Ruby rode superstars Hurricane Fly and Kauto Star on so many glory days.

His dreams became real. Every box was ticked and most of the time there wasn't enough room in the box for all the ticks.

You would hardly expect a man so full of life to spend the rest of his days holding a ball of wool for Gillian when she goes at the knitting, if she ever actually gets the time.

Ruby loves her. His pals say she is her man's listener and advisor when he worries.

I'm glad and sad on this fine Punchestown evening.

Glad the boy from the small pony is in one piece, but sad for the times that were in it ,and are gone now forever.

Ruby retired and his times retired with him.

The Ruby Days were The Golden Years of horse racing.

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