Celebrating Ruby Walsh – Cheltenham Festival’s Greatest
One of the most successful jockeys to have graced Cheltenham Racecourse is Irish maestro, Ruby Walsh. Ruby has been leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival 11 times with help from the likes of Kauto Star, Big Buck’s and Master Minded.
It’s a shame that in 2020, racegoers and fans won’t get to see the illustrious man in action following his shock announcement that he’d be retiring from the game last year. He’s had a glittering career and boasts a record that most jockeys would be envious of, in fact, to understand the prestige of the Cheltenham Festival, we have to look at the man’s successes.
The Irishman showed talent from an early age. At just 20 years old and on his first attempt, he rode Papillon to victory in the prestigious Grand National (2000) and later scored a second win in 2005. Whilst he holds one of the most impressive performances at the Grand National winning it twice, placing second once, third once and fourth twice, his accomplishments at Cheltenham Racecourse are unmatched.
He has won four Champion Hurdles, three Champion Chases, five World Hurdles and two Gold Cups. He was a force to be feared – not one person didn’t know who Ruby Walsh was. Aside from the Grade 1 races, Walsh also romped to victory five times in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, three times in the Arkle Challenge Trophy, seven times in the Mares’ Hurdle, claimed four Ryanair Chase’s and a number of other races at Prestbury Park to take his total winning tally at Cheltenham Racecourse to 59!
Master Minded – Queen Mother Champion Chase (2008, 2009)
Though a previous winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase back in 2004 on Azertyuiop, it was Walsh’s partnership with Master Minded that had the crowd erupting. On Champion Day Tuesday, the pair produced one of the most impressive performances ever seen at the Cheltenham Festival to annihilate previous Festival winner, Voy Por Ustedes by 19 lengths!
In 2009 Master Minded defended his title with ease, claiming a second Champion Chase victory with Walsh. No-one expected him do it twice but he outclassed his opponents and Ruby later described him as a “machine.” 2009 will always be a memorable year for Ruby Walsh, who swept to dominance after riding a record-breaking seven winners at The Festival to land leading jockey once again.
Kauto Star – Cheltenham Gold Cup (2007, 2009)
Hurricane Fly – Champion Hurdle (2011, 2013)
The name Hurricane Fly and Walsh are likely to be remembered synonymously. Hurricane Fly scored an immense 22 Grade 1 wins to help Walsh become a prominent figure at the Cheltenham Festival time after time.
In the 81st running of the Champion Hurdle, he landed Walsh and trainer, Willie Mullins their first win in the race. It was a hard-fought victory and the 11-4 favourite battled in a mighty duel with Peddlers Cross up the hill before pulling away after the last. It was a deserved win and though Peddlers Cross tried, he just couldn’t size up to the Irish raider.
Two years later, the nine-year-old gelding repeated history and regained the Champions Hurdle title. He looked to be struggling at first but he dug deep for Ruby, extending the gap between him and the defending champion, Rock on Ruby by two and a half lengths. It was an emphatic win on the Prestbury Park old course, with a number of racegoers saluting victory to Walsh and Mullins.
Big Buck’s – World Hurdle (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
Ruby Walsh conquered the World on Big Buck’s, winning Grade 1 race after Grade 1 race over a span of four years at Cheltenham Festival. The punters loved the partnership!
When Paul Nicholls first decided to send Big Buck’s over the hurdles in 2009, his owner thought he was “bonkers”. Little did he know that his stable star would go onto win it another three times after that. Under Walsh’s guidance Big Buck’s broke records, though his fourth win was certainly no easy feat.
Walsh sent him off to the front a little earlier than usual and the exceptional staying hurdler, was pushed every step of the way by Voler La Vedette, who continued to loom in his slipstream but after the final flight, Walsh’s mount flew clear by a length to retain his title.
Even away from Cheltenham the duo was senseless, with Big Buck’s racking up 18 wins in a row before retiring from the National Hunt. To this day, only Altior has surpassed his record.