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'There Was No More Seductive Sight In Sport' - Ruby Walsh Legacy Lives On

'There Was No More Seductive Sight In Sport' - Ruby Walsh Legacy Lives On
Aonghus Ó Maicín
By Aonghus Ó Maicín
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These were heady days for jumps racing.

For over 20 years, we have been spoiled by our mere existence, living in a era that has produced a golden generation. As some of the most euphoric memories in racing's history were cultivated on the tracks of Ireland and Britain, we simply shrugged - we had come to expect such excellence in the craft of horsemanship.

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Yesterday, in the Punchestown paddock where he has been greeted by so many beaming owners, the chief protagonist in those highlights hopped off a winner's back for the last time.

Ruby Walsh follows in the footsteps of Carbery, McCoy and the recently retired Fehily, but the dawning of reality was never as plaintive as yesterday in Kildare. The likes of Russell and Geraghty remain in the saddle for now, but if we're being honest with ourselves, they're hardly spring chickens.

Different eras inevitably become associated with different vocations. Like the middle of the last century when the island was overflowing with tortured souls whose main source of sustenance was reaching for the quill. It brings to mind that great old yarn involving three of the great wordsmiths, waiting outside their local for that other source of notable nourishment.

As Brendan Behan stood alongside Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O'Brien on a sopping Dublin day, he turned to his fellow comrades to say, "The problem with Dublin these days is that there are just no characters."


Like that generation of scholars were never replaced, this particular group of horsemen will leave a void - and an unmerciful standard for the next batch to reach.

But it will be Walsh's berth in the weigh-room that will continue to command respect and wonder and fear. For longer than any of us can foresee.

On the track, he rode like he was an extension of the horse. Like Christy Ring with his hurl, Kenny G with his sax, Picasso with his brush - Ruby and whatever beast was beneath him were one, like something out of a Greek myth. There was no more seductive sight in sport than the motionless jockey, aboard some top-rated nag, booming over fence or hurdle. Effortless.


His signature move, creeping up on the inside around the final bend, was known to even the most uneducated. Yet, in nearly 25 years of racing, nobody found a solution to this cunning intellect. In recent years, jockeys have began to give up on finding a solution to the champion rider's instincts and have regularly opted to just stay as close as possible, for as long as possible, and simply hope. More often than not, when Ruby and his partner were in their pomp, fellow jockeys just had to accept the inevitable.

His greatest triumphs naturally came around Cheltenham, a track where he knew every undulation of the fabled surface. He knew where to strike, where to avoid, where to sit still and wait for the opening. Prestbury Park, you see, was his study, his playground, his home - it was where he produced his finest works.

Not even he could believe he would surpass Pat Taaffe's record of 25 winners around the Cotswolds track; with 59 winners to his name Walsh obliterated it. So much history was created by one figure in this particular venue that, on a quiet summer's day, echoes of "Ruby, Ruby, Ruby" can still be heard from the top of Cleeve Hill. Even if it is only in the subconscious.


A waspish yet jocular personality suggests his time making memories at Chelenham isn't over; unfortunately, he won't be making them in the saddle.

The Grand National, Walsh said yesterday, was the original target for his retirement announcement, though it was symbolic that he bowed out at his local track, in front of his own people, aboard a horse trained by the man he has spent an entire career forging a fearsome relationship.

What made it all the more poignant was the manner of his final win - riding a rising star that could go on to contend for a number of Cheltenham Gold Cups to come. Yesterday's jockey, however, won't be riding him to any more wins. Luckily for Kemboy, he had the luxury of being ridden by a legend. And, no doubt, he has left an indelible mark on the seven-year-old, as he has with every runner he's boarded, that will play a pivotal role no matter what happens in the coming years.


The 39-year-old will be there for whatever comes next, but he'll be behind the rails.

He ultimately leaves the game in the same way he came in - with that cheeky persona that has, over time, evolved into a montage of video clips. Not even the venerable Willie Mullins was afforded an warning prior to yesterday's big announcement.

"You'd better find a rider for Livelovelaugh later," he said hopping off Kemboy. "I'm finished."


Father Time is a bitch, and yet he couldn't rob Walsh, arguably the greatest jockey to ever guide a horse over a fence, of his wit. And, thankfully, we can expect it in abundance from here on in as he follows his father, Ted, into punditry and, with that, chuckling living rooms throughout the land.

Excerpts of wit and knowledge won't make up for a lack of winners in the hands of the jockey; at least we've lived to witness them.

SEE ALSO: Tributes Pour In As Ruby Walsh Prepares For Life After Racing

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