Friday 24 May 2019

Patrick Mullins: 'Nobody understood the syntax of race-riding as well as Ruby did'

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A match made in heaven: Ruby celebrates his final winner with Willie after Kemboy’s victory in
the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday. Photo: PA
A match made in heaven: Ruby celebrates his final winner with Willie after Kemboy’s victory in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday. Photo: PA

Patrick Mullins

Ali didn't discover boxing, Elvis didn't invent rock 'n' roll, Dali didn't conceive painting, Ruby didn't create race-riding. He just perfected it.

To be great, truly great, you must do more than just win. You must wow. To those who understood what they were seeing, watching Ruby was like watching Rembrandt paint 'The Night Watch', like watching Hendrix on a guitar.

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Yes, others will come and play the part of champion jockey and win the big races but there's been many Bonds and still only one Connery.

The weigh room is a place full of hard men, and women, but Ruby has always been different. A man amongst men. He had an utterly Olympian dedication to winning and an almost allergic reaction to losing.

I've seen him ride with a broken fibula because it's a "non-weight-bearing bone". I'm no doctor, but I feel that mightn't be completely true?

His understanding of the syntax of race-riding was comparable perhaps only to Shakespeare's grasp of it in relation to playwriting. Getting the right position, having the horse settled, getting into a jumping rhythm, arriving at the perfect moment.

He nailed the logistics of being in the right place at the right time more than anyone else. You can't say what his greatest strength was because he was equally adept at everything. Carberry was known for arriving late, McCoy for his finish, Dunwoody for his style. Russell for his politics. But Ruby could do all of these. He has sculpted more masterpieces of rides, from every position in a race, than any other jockey.

Think tricking Tidal Bay into winning the Lexus. Smuggling Dun Doire around in the William Hill. Galvanising Hurricane Fly back past Jezki and Our Conor. Nailing McCoy on the line with Final Approach in the County Hurdle. Sending the ageing Kauto Star into every fence from the front in the King George against Long Run.

Mattered

Transforming Vautour into a "gazelle in equine form" around Cheltenham. Making Yorkhill look relatively sane on the times it mattered most. That time he was a short-head away from winning the English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish Grand Nationals in one season. Read that line again.

Going over to America to win their Grand National and also nicking the Australian Grand National too. Plundering the Japanese Gold Cup. Victorious in the French Champion Hurdle. I'd go on but I'm out of breath.

He has been at Closutton for just short of 25 years. My father was wasting to lose a few pounds to ride a difficult filly in a bumper in Leopardstown one day when he decided she wasn't worth the hardship. He rang Ted Walsh, his contemporary and great rival in the saddle, and asked was his 16-year-old son available. Ruby rode the mare. She won.

It was a moment of epiphany for Willie and he took Ruby on board straight away. Since then Ruby has competed at elite level in England and Ireland without ever having being moved on. An incredible achievement. Even Churchill got sacked eventually. The greatest compliment I can give him is that they say you should never know your heroes. But I consider myself lucky to know mine.

Nothing defines someone like the manner of their departure, goes the line in 'Macbeth'. And once again Ruby delivered, with that rarest of sporting commodities, the perfect ending. No Zidane headbutt or doctor'' advice like Dunwoody.

No, he went out beating the young pretender Townend, who was riding the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, in the feature race of Punchestown. Kemboy arrived better than any deus ex machina (god from the machine) and Ruby leaves at the top of the game.

We may never see his like again.

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