Thursday 16 August 2018

'Sundae' gets cream as Katie bows out

Supasundae with Robbie Power up. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Supasundae with Robbie Power up. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Who could have predicted that ladies day would prove to be just that as Katie Walsh signalled her retirement from the saddle with a winner at her local track while Jessica Harrington bagged the big prize on day four of the Punchestown Festival.

Racing is never short of drama and Walsh brought the curtain down on her trail-blazing career in typical fashion as she carried Antey (9/1) - a spare ride for Willie Mullins - over the line in a pulsating novice hurdle finish.

Getting the better of Barry Geraghty was symbolic of the 33-year-old amateur's prowess as the three-time Cheltenham Festival winner hung up her whip on winning terms - something few have managed in a dangerous game.

Greeted by a guard of honour from her fellow jockeys to a swell of emotion from friends, family and race-goers, a tearful Walsh spoke of a decision on her mind "for some time" as she starts "the next chapter of her life" with husband/trainer Ross O'Sullivan.

"Marvellous career, unbelievable memories. I'd like to go out while this was all going. I don't want to be the one sitting at home thinking, 'Jesus, when is she going to hang up her boots?' I wanted to go out on my own terms," Walsh said.

"I've come to different points where I thought this might be it. I wanted to ride in the Grand National and I did that for Ross (on Baie Des Iles earlier this month). I've ridden in Australia, France to have the backing of Dad, support of Ruby, and family, and Willie.

Trainer Jessica Harrington. Photo: Sportsfile
Trainer Jessica Harrington. Photo: Sportsfile

"I got some great opportunities. Thousand Stars, ridden in more Grade Ones than I can count. It's the right time for me. I'd like to thank those I rode winners for. I'm glad I'm getting out on my own terms."

Her father Ted, who she finished third aboard Seabass for six years ago in the Aintree Grand National (the highest ever female finish), paid tribute to his daughter.

"It's a sad day, but a great day. She has some great memories and it's a great way to end," he said.

"She's had a wonderful life and done more than she ever thought she'd do. I was scared sh**less every time I saw her and Ruby in action but what can you do, it's their life and it's a lovely way for her to end it all."

Brother Ruby added: "Hard as nails. Took every opportunity she was given, punched well above her weight. Always tactically very aware, brave as a lion, fit and strong. Didn't have any weaknesses. There were plenty of days when she finished ahead of me."

Harrington is another woman who has made ground-breaking achievements throughout her extraordinary training career and added another string to her ever-growing bow with Supasundae (7/1) getting his just desserts to clinch the Champion Hurdle.

All eyes were on Samcro (5/6 favourite) until he parted company with Jack Kennedy at the third-last - Melon fell simultaneously -which Gordon described as a "sickener" and we are still none the wiser about whether he will stay hurdling next season.

Half an hour earlier Magic of Light (6/1) became Harrington's first winner of the week but when it rains, it pours and the gutsy Supasundae added the Punchestown Champion Hurdle to the Leopardstown equivalent in the hands Robbie Power.

Given that the Moone handler suffered some hammer blows with 2017 Gold Cup winner Sizing John ruled out for the season and Our Duke suffering a fatal heart attack on her Commonstown gallops, Lady Luck was finally on her side.

Power said: "I felt going to the third-last that Melon was definitely flat to the boards, and I was starting to close in on Samcro - maybe he was flat out too and that is why he fell. We will never know the answer but my horse deserved a bit of luck.

"Things have not gone ideally for the season but you have to keep your head down, Willie and Gordon can't win everything and we've still had four Grade One winners."

Elliott and Kennedy did gain some compensation with Dortmund Park (16/1) the beneficiary when the fall of Debuchet brought Scarpeta and Getabird to a standstill in the Grade One Champion Novice Hurdle.

Meanwhile, Mullins finished the day on 14 winners - two short of his 2015 record - which confirmed his 12th Irish trainers' championship success.

Irish Independent

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