Monday 23 July 2018

Ruby raring to get back in saddle

Ruby Walsh: ‘I haven’t thought about the end’. Photo: Morgan Treacy
Ruby Walsh: ‘I haven’t thought about the end’. Photo: Morgan Treacy

Fergus McDonnell

Maybe he's a little bit stir crazy or just itching to get back in the saddle and chasing winners again, but Ruby Walsh is as quick as ever with the one-liners. So much so that over-vigilant stewards might be tempted to haul him up for excessive use of the quip.

Almost from the minute he was thrown off Let's Dance at Punchestown on November 18, breaking his leg, Walsh has been counting down the days to making his return to race riding. This weekend's inaugural Dublin Racing Festival always looked a bridge too far, but he's never missed Cheltenham. Would he make it back in time?

"Jesus, don't put the mockers on me," he says. "No, I can't imagine not being there. Maybe as a sportsperson you always think in the positive about being there. I have never contemplated that thought, I'm not going to start now.

"Obviously I didn't have a calendar in my pocket when I fell, but you are working out in your mind, how long it is to Cheltenham, so when I fell at Punchestown I did calculate that there were 16 weeks to the Cheltenham Festival, but I wasn't sure how far before it this (Dublin Racing Festival) was.

"So when I worked it out that it was 11 weeks to the Dublin Racing Festival, I always thought that it might be a bit tight, but 16 weeks to Cheltenham gave me plenty of time."

The plan now, after another consultation with the surgeon this week, is to return on the last weekend of the month or the first weekend in March. But surely when he is down at the start for the first time again he'll be thinking of that first fence, that first hurdle?

"No. I'll have fallen at home already."

It may seem a very short period of time to regain full fitness after a leg break, but Walsh has been working hard in the gym and, as he said himself, when you're targeting specific muscles, "you can't hide".

"I was actually in the Aviva the night Seamus Coleman suffered his broken leg. I didn't think there was any malice in the tackle, maybe I read it wrong as an unfortunate accident. He's an unbelievable professional, you can see that in the reaction of his two managers at Everton - Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce - to him.

"Racing is a completely different sport. It requires total compression of your muscles, whereas playing soccer is a complete extension of your body. My right fibia will carry all my body weight, but it won't do much more, and he has to learn to run on his leg again and tackle.

"Being tackled is only a mental thing, it's like the first fall you get as a jockey. Once you get one fall out of the way, you forget about it."

Walsh has had mixed feelings about being out of action for some of the biggest races of the season. At first he was frustrated about the winning rides he was missing, but now he's anxious that those horses keep winning so that he'll get the chance to partner them at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown.

He'll be on media duty today for the second day of a Festival he believes has a bright future despite the lack of English-trained runners. "Racing is cyclical," he maintains. "At the moment we're on top, but it will turn. It's like Willie (Mullins) always says to Patrick, 'enjoy these horses, they won't always be there'.

"There was a time when the best horses had to be sold. But now Gigginstown, JP McManus and Rich Ricci are keeping those horses in Ireland, but when those owners move on as well, it will change. Our population is 6.5 million, compared to what it is in the UK (more than 60m), we're doing great to have what we have and to be able to dominate."

And what of the future? At 38 does he see retirement on the horizon?

"I haven't thought about the end, so I don't have the answer for you. Of course, I know there will be a day when I won't be able to ride a racehorse. Ryan Giggs played in the Premier League until he was 40 and that's much more physically demanding than riding a horse. It doesn't matter how much I slow down, I didn't have to run in the first place.

"So once your appetite is still there and the hunger is there, and people still want you, I'd like to keep doing it. I don't want a real job.

"I'd like to ride a Gold Cup winner for Willie, I'd like to win a race at Cheltenham on a horse of my father's and I'd love to win the English Grand National again."

  • Ruby Walsh is a Paddy Power racing ambassador

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