Tag Archive for: Ruby Walsh

Walsh welcomes continued support for Irish Injured Jockeys

Irish Injured Jockeys chairman Ruby Walsh has hailed continued support from the Association of Irish Racecourses as a “massive” boost.

The AIR, which represents all 26 Irish racecourses, has pledged a combined total donation of €369,000 to the charity over the next three years – €123,000 per annum.

This donation will go towards IIJ running costs in an effort to ensure that public income raised through donations and fundraisers will go to service users and beneficiaries.

Former champion National Hunt rider Walsh said: “On behalf of the Irish Injured Jockeys, I would like to sincerely thank and acknowledge the 26 racecourses for their support.

“The extension of their financial commitment for another three years is massive for IIJ and testament to the great relationship we have with the racecourses.

“Their support will allow us to continue the important work we do and expand our services to riders. Their support towards IIJ running costs is a noble gesture and a remarkable contribution for which we are most grateful.”

AIR extends financial support to IIJ for a further three years (Healy Racing Photography)

Donations are set on a scaled basis depending on the racecourse grade and each track pays their pledged amount to IIJ direct.

Conor O’Neill, chairman of the AIR and CEO of Punchestown, said: “Jockeys are the cornerstone of racing, providing racegoers with great days out and brilliant racing memories.

“However, we are acutely aware that it is a high-risk sport and the extraordinary physical demands our jockeys face for our sporting pleasure.

“Irish racecourses enjoy superb relationships with jockeys and greatly value the time they give us to promote our wonderful sport each year.

“In recognition of that, the Association of Irish Racecourses is delighted to formally demonstrate our commitment with €123,000 per year for the next three years to support the incredible work the Irish Injured Jockeys do.”

Russell backs reduced number of National runners

Dual Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell has thrown her support behind the decision to reduce the Aintree field to 34 runners from next year.

The Jockey Club, which runs the Liverpool track, announced a series of revisions to the April highlight on Thursday, with a cut in the maximum number of contenders down from 40 the headline change.

The position of the first fence will also be moved closer to the start while the race will be brought forward from its recent slot of 5.15pm, with the aim of providing the best possible ground for what is the betting event of the season.

Russell saddled One For Arthur to victory in 2017 and sent out Corach Rambler to triumph last season in a National that was slightly delayed after protesters from Animal Rising tried to stop the race from going ahead.

One For Arthur, Lucinda Russell's 2017 Grand National hero
One For Arthur, Lucinda Russell’s 2017 Grand National hero (Ian Rutherford/PA)

The Kinross handler said: “I think these changes announced today are a clear sign again that Aintree and The Jockey Club continue to be proactive in trying to support the Grand National and the wider sport of horseracing.

“I am fully supportive of reducing the field size and I don’t feel that six fewer runners will make a difference to the heritage of the race – it can only be a good step and hopefully will help improve the start procedures.

“As regards moving the first fence, the further you go then the more speed you are going to pick up, so logically it should mean they approach it slower. I know that it’s tricky for the jockeys to manage their speed, as it’s such an important race and everyone is vying for a good position.

“Aintree do a wonderful job in always producing perfect ground conditions; it is ground on the soft side of good, which is the way it should be.

“The level of welfare in racing is phenomenal and something we should be proud of. Once again, Aintree is trying to make things safer.”

Retired jockey Ruby Walsh rode two National winners on Papillon (2000) and Hedgehunter (2005) and he believes evolution is essential for the future of the race.

He said: “The Grand National is the showcase event for a sport I love dearly. It’s iconic and I don’t think you can overstate how important the Grand National is – it’s a Saturday in April when non-racing people watch our sport. People enjoy it and it’s up to us in racing to make sure that they continue to enjoy it.

“I think these changes represent the evolution of the Grand National. The world is ever-changing and the Grand National, and indeed horseracing, like any other sport, has to be prepared to change. Risk can never be removed but you have to try and minimise it.

“Horse welfare is a huge part of horseracing – it’s a team sport between horse and rider and we are responsible for the welfare of the horse. I think the changes announced today by The Jockey Club will enhance the Grand National as a horse race and help to ensure its future.

“I would say the biggest effect of the earlier start time will be with the ground. We all know what a big conversation climate change is in the world and it’s very hard to keep the whole of the Grand National course on the soft side of good with the race being run later in the afternoon.”

Ruby Walsh salutes the Aintree crowd aboard Hedgehunter
Ruby Walsh salutes the Aintree crowd aboard Hedgehunter (David Davies/PA)

The race was contested over four and a half miles until 2013, when it was reduced by half a furlong after the start was moved forward to be further away from the crowds and grandstands following a safety review, with the trip cut further to four miles, two and a half furlongs in 2016 after the method of measuring race distances was changed.

A standing start will now be implemented for the race, which meets with Walsh’s approval, as does the call to lower the 11th fence and alter the track layout to help catch loose horses earlier.

He added: “An effect of being able to bypass fences and the levelling off on the landing sides of fences means that more runners bunch towards the inside and therefore the reduction in field size will, in my opinion, make a considerable difference.

“You hope small things make for big progress. A lot of thought and effort has gone into this process – it was a proper and thorough review. For me, it’s evolution. It was 10 years since the last changes were made and you can look and see what has worked and what needs to be evolved.

“There are lots of people who don’t like change but all sports change. Soccer is not the same game it was 30 or even 15 years ago and looking at the Rugby World Cup, rugby has had to evolve. Racing is the same in that we have to evolve to ensure the future of the sport.”

The RSPCA has welcomed changes to the Grand National
The RSPCA has welcomed changes to the Grand National (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Emma Slawinski, RSPCA director of policy, described the announcement as a “welcome step” but underlined the charity still thinks there is more work to be done.

She said: “This is a welcome step from The Jockey Club and we are very pleased to see the organisation taking horse welfare seriously and making changes to the Grand National as a result, including decreasing the current maximum number of runners.

“We have always urged horseracing authorities to act on the wealth of science and evidence and believe this is the only way to demonstrate a commitment to improving and protecting horse welfare and ensuring a good life for those involved in the sport. The BHA and The Jockey Club will know that the RSPCA will continue to urge them to go further for the good of horse welfare.

“We believe that racehorses should have a good life on and off the track and should never be exposed to unacceptable risk of injury or death. Any steps from The Jockey Club to meet that aim are a positive step forward, we look forward to seeing this announcement pave the way for further changes and remain keen to work with them.”

National thrill lives on for Ruby Walsh

Ruby Walsh won all there is to win during his illustrious riding career – but as far as he is concerned, one day in Liverpool 23 years ago ranks above any other.

It is coming up to four years since Walsh retired from the saddle and he is widely recognised as one of the greatest National Hunt jockeys of all time.

Walsh’s achievements speak for themselves. He is the most successful jockey in Cheltenham Festival history with 59 victories at the showpiece meeting on his CV, including two Gold Cups on Kauto Star, four Champion Hurdles and three Queen Mother Champion Chases.

But while all those big-race triumphs were special, Walsh feels the Grand National is on another level.

“It’s definitely one of the big ones and probably still ‘the one’,” said the 43-year-old.

“From a purist’s point of view you always think of the Gold Cup, but from an objective view of the sport, the Grand National is much bigger. It’s more appealing to a wider, public audience and it’s just an incredible race.

“If you ask people about horseracing, they’ll mention the Derby and the Grand National and the National is a unique contest.”

Ted and Ruby Walsh after Papillon's Grand National triumph
Ted and Ruby Walsh after Papillon’s Grand National triumph (PA)

Walsh was a fresh-faced albeit already greying 20-year-old when he first tackled the world’s most famous steeplechase in millennium year aboard Papillon.

Trained by the rider’s father, Ted, the horse brought strong form claims to Aintree, having previously finished second in the Irish Grand National and he was a heavily-backed 10-1 shot on the day.

Papillon jumped like a stag over fences that were far more formidable than they are now on his way to a one-and-a-quarter-length victory over Mely Moss, sparking scenes of unabashed jubilation from Walsh.

“It doesn’t feel like yesterday,” he said.

“My standout memory from the day is the feeling I had in the last three strides crossing the line, knowing he was going to win. That is a feeling you’d never forget.

“Papillon was an incredible jumper, but I don’t think you ever go out in a Grand National thinking about winning. You’re glad to be there, it’s such a hard race and even on Papillon, it’s just great to be part of it.

“You’re just glad to be riding in it. You don’t go into it thinking ‘this could win’, I don’t think that thought ever went through my head.

“To be there in 2000 and ride the winner of the Grand National for dad, that was the greatest moment of my career.”

It is hard to believe it now, but in the early part of Walsh’s career an Irish-trained winner of the National was a rarity.

Papillon was a Grand National hero
Papillon was a Grand National hero (Owen Humphreys/PA)

That is certainly not the case now, with the balance of power in National Hunt racing at present very much with the raiding party, as exemplified by the fact the last four winners of the National have been from across the Irish Sea.

Walsh said: “Bobbyjo won in 1999 and Papillon won in 2000, but all through my childhood Irish horses didn’t win the Grand National, they could barely compete in it.

“Irish racing changed in the late 90s and and Ireland changed as a country. Horses cost plenty and when money flows into the country, horses come with it.

“Irish racing has had an unbelievable 25 years and we’re enjoying it. As long as our trainers can keep attracting the financial investment from owners, that gives you a big chance. But if that stops and swings back to the other side of the Irish Sea, so will the success.”

Walsh went on to claim a second National verdict aboard 7-1 favourite Hedgehunter for Willie Mullins in 2005 and even though the race is run over a marathon distance, he feels tactics can prove crucial.

Ruby Walsh celebrates winning his second Grand National aboard Hedgehunter
Ruby Walsh celebrates winning his second Grand National aboard Hedgehunter (David Davies/PA)

“You need a bit of luck and to me, you go wherever there’s less horses,” he added.

“If you stand at the start and 30 want to go up the inside, you’re better playing against 10 on the outside than 30 on the inside. I suppose that’s a numbers game – you open your eyes and see what’s happening, go where there’s less and bring down the risk.

“Even when you’ve jumped three and think ‘yeah, this horse is liking it’, you still have 27 to go and one mistake is going to finish you.

“I didn’t ride many that didn’t take to it, possibly Shotgun Willie and On His Own the second time he ran in it, but I had some great rides over the fences and it’s an amazing feeling.

“I did have a couple of rides where I was thinking ‘how much further am I going to get’. My Will finished third in the National, but he didn’t get off the ground three or four times! I’ve had good rides and few hairy ones too, but that’s the joys of it I suppose.”

Ruby Walsh at Cheltenham
Ruby Walsh at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

The National has a habit of throwing up a good tale, something Walsh believes is part of its magic.

He said: “From Mouse Morris winning it with Rule The World in the year he lost his son, with a young David Mullins riding him, to Emmet Mullins winning last year with Noble Yeats, there’s always a personal story.

“What Rachael (Blackmore) achieved winning it on Minella Times was incredible, Paul Carberry won it for his father Tommy Carberry on Bobbyjo and I was lucky to win it for dad. Small yards win Grand Nationals and Tommy Carberry, dad and Jimmy Mangan winning it with Monty’s Pass epitomises that.

“It doesn’t always have to be the greatest horse that wins the Grand National, something well handicapped can take to the place. That’s why it’s such a unique race.”

The famous fences are not the fearsome structures they once were, but remains a special event.

“I think the modifications to the fences have been really good. It’s a much easier race, yet the amount of spruce they put on the fences just creates an optical illusion as they’re still big and green,” he added.

“It’s an optical illusion now more than being a massive test, but I think it still works and it’s still a great race.

“It’s such a big day, a huge crowd and such a build-up and such an atmosphere – it is a special day for jockeys to partake in.

“Most people riding in it are professional athletes and to be performing on a stage, almost like a Premier League footballer or international rugby player in front of 70-odd thousand people, you don’t get to do that very often.

“When you go out to ride in the Grand National, you almost feel like you’re walking out into a pitch in one of those great stadiums and it’s a special feeling to be part of it.”

Jump Jockeys: How Are The Mighty Fallen?

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!

- Samuel, 1:25

Perhaps more so than the terrific performances at Cheltenham this past weekend, or the death of National Hunt benefactor Alan Potts, jump racing's headlines have been hogged in recent days not by horses or owners, nor even trainers; but, rather, by the riders.

First Paddy Brennan was sensationally 'jocked off' Cue Card, sweetheart of so many fans of the winter game, after a tumble too many; then Sam Twiston-Davies broke his elbow in a fall at Sandown before, this past Saturday, Ruby Walsh broke his leg in what was, remarkably, his third fall of the afternoon.

It is of course the very essence of the National Hunt jockeys' existence to face down danger between ten and twenty - and as many as 32 - times per race. In that context, falls are a natural by-product of race outcomes. But what is a reasonable rate for a rider to become separated from his or her equine partner?

Let the data speak.

 

Fall/Unseat Rates: The Five Year Macro Data

Below are the faller rates for the last five years in UK/Irish chases by a number of the top jockeys, one notably since retired. To be clear, this is for steeplechase falls and unseats (FU's) only, and the table is sorted by number of rides.

 

Jockey Rides FU's FU %
R Johnson 1552 88 5.67%
S Twiston-Davies 1484 93 6.27%
N Fehily 1003 59 5.88%
P Brennan 999 56 5.61%
D Russell 800 57 7.13%
B Geraghty 740 40 5.41%
AP McCoy 724 41 5.66%
R Walsh 651 53 8.14%
J Kennedy 258 24 9.30%

 

To add more global context to this subset of superstars, the average fall/unseat rate in the last 10,000 starters in UK and Irish chases has been 6.59%. Solely in Irish chases, the last 10,000 starters there fell or unseated at a rate of 7.84%, presumably because of the heavier turf on which they predominantly race (a subject for another, wetter, day). It may then be fair to say that anything lower than that is outperforming the average, and anything higher than that is under-performing against the average.

But not all chase rides are 'average'. The likes of Ruby Walsh and Jack Kennedy are more frequently engaged in the kind of skirmishes for victory which may demand firing a horse at the last, or an earlier fence, in a more aggressive fashion than, say, a rider popping round for fourth place.

If that is to mitigate, the disparities in the table cannot be so simply swept from view.

We can see i the table that, on a large number of rides, many of them with winning chances, Richard Johnson, Sam Twiston-Davies and Noel Fehily have all kept their fall/unseat rate below 6.5%. So too have Paddy Brennan, Barry Geraghty, and the now retired Tony McCoy.

But across the Irish Sea, look at Davy Russell, who leads the Irish jumps championship this term, and his hitherto closest pursuer, Ruby Walsh. Note also Jack Kennedy, number one jockey at Gordon Elliott's powerfully ascendant yard.

Russell's tumble rate of 7.13% is on the high side compared with Britain, but not wildly out of kilter with the pan-national average and in the green zone against his domestic peer group. The same cannot be said of Jack and Ruby. Although the former is young and arguably still learning his trade - arguably because he's had many more rides than plenty of jockeys five years his senior - the latter especially looks a surprisingly precarious pilot. Now, before the hate mail starts, obviously I recognise that Ruby Walsh is one of the great jockeys of our time and that this is but one barometer of a jockey's ability.

But, all the same, if I want to bet at a short price - and his rides are almost exclusively offered at prohibitive odds - I need to know that I have to factor a higher than average likelihood of my selection not passing the post in a chase with the rider on its back. With Jack Kennedy, he's almost 20% more likely to be dumped on the turf than the Irish average.

Let me be clear again: this is not about Ruby or Jack or anyone else. I'm far too selfish for that. No, this is about me as a punter knowing what I'm up against. About being forewarned and, therefore, forearmed.

 

Fall/Unseat Rates: The One Year Snapshot

Five years is a long time and it makes for some statistically significant (in the context of racing's generally small samples at least) inferences. But how do we compare jockeys with themselves? One way is to look at a snapshot - a subset - of the overall dataset. For punting purposes, the most current subset seems the most sensible. Below then are the last twelve months for the same jockey grouping, again sorted by number of rides.

 

Jockey Rides FU's FU %
R Johnson 301 20 6.64%
S Twiston-Davies 300 16 5.33%
D Russell 210 9 4.29%
N Fehily 206 12 5.83%
P Brennan 182 7 3.85%
R Walsh 124 13 10.48%
J Kennedy 123 12 9.76%
B Geraghty 105 9 8.57%
AP McCoy NA NA NA

 

Whilst even more care needs to be taken not to make bold claims on the basis of flimsy sample sizes, there remain elephants in the room.

First, let's look at Paddy Brennan, recently relieved of his supporting role atop the gorgeous Cue Card. His 3.85% fall/unseat rate in the past year is comfortably the lowest in the group and almost 1.5 times better than his five year average. Was he thus unlucky to lose such a coveted ride? That depends entirely on whether you're a macro sort of guy or you have the nuanced eye to make decisions based on the specifics of a handful of rides. I certainly don't consider myself qualified in the latter context and can see arguments for and against the rider switch.

The British Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson, has seen his tumble rate increase in the past twelve months, though possibly not materially. It has crept above the 10,000 runner average of 6.59% by a tiny margin: Johnson's renewed appetite to forage for every ride will have introduced a greater element of quantity over quality to his diet and the variance may perhaps be explained in such a way.

Noel Fehily has been remarkably consistent while Sam Twiston-Davies, who amazingly (to me at least, he seems to have been around for a long time) has only just turned 25, has retained his partnerships on a notably more frequent basis according to the most recent evidence. Tough luck then to break his elbow earlier this month; he actually rode in a subsequent race, attesting to the no-safety-net trapeze swing between heroism and stupidity that many in the weighing room unquestioningly fling themselves.

Meanwhile, Ireland's champion jockey-elect, Davy Russell, is 27 winners clear of his nearest challenger if one excludes the sidelined Walsh from calculations. Russell is approaching veteran status, though still in his late thirties, and has courted controversy this year in the manner with which he attempted to correct a recalcitrant mount. That episode deserves no more than a footnote in a piece the focus of which is elsewhere, and it will indeed be a shame if a man shunned by his major employer less than four years ago does not receive the praise he deserves if/when winning the jockeys' championship. Fair play to him.

To the elephant or, more precisely, the trio of elephants, in the room. Barry Geraghty first. He is one of the best jockeys I've seen and, in his time at Nicky Henderson's, was a man never to be dismissed. But, since taking the green and gold coin of Team JP, misfortune has followed him like a very bad smell. Since last July, he has broken both arms, in separate incidents; cracked a rib and collapsed a lung on another occasion; and recently (late August) fractured a shoulder blade. You have to be tough to be a jump jockey - far tougher than to look at numbers and write words about the subject - but my admiration starts to wane when riders persist in the face of mounting fragility.

It's no more my place to suggest to a rider about when to retire as it is for a rider to enquire on the number of winners I've ridden. So I won't. All I'll say is that I imagine the partners and families of jump jockeys rejoice the news of their loved one's cessation of getting legged up in a similar vein to that of the partners and families of professional boxers on hearing of gloves being hung for the final time. And I sincerely hope BJG has a long, uninterrupted and fruitful spell between now and whenever he pursues alternative employment.

Yet still we've to address the figureheads of Closutton and Cullentra, Ruby and Jack. In the last twelve months, Kennedy has come unstuck a dozen times from 123 chase starts. That's as near to ten per cent, and as near to 25% above the Irish average, as doesn't matter. Walsh has fallen or unseated once more than Kennedy, from one more ride, in the same period, a ratio above 10% and almost 33% greater than the norm.

It seems churlish to kick a man when he's down - Ruby faces a race against time to be back for the Cheltenham Festival and, like all fans of the sport, I hope he makes it - so I'll let those data speak for themselves. All I will add is that, to my eye - and keep in mind I've never ridden a winner - Ruby takes too many chances with fatigued animals late in races. Mounting (or, cynically, dismounting) evidence seems to support that.

The pressure in the Elliott and Mullins camps must be enormous, not just from the trainers, but from owners, other jockeys in the yard and, increasingly, the omnipresence of (social) media. Much of the latter is unworthy of attention, but when you're accustomed to being told how good you are, the sharper brickbats probably leave a weal.

 

Final Thoughts

There is an inherent selection bias in the tables above. Each of the jockeys therein has earned his place by being at the top of his peer group; such elevation comes only from taking chances when they're presented, and occasionally fashioning them when they may not absolutely be there.

As sports gigs go, riding 600kg animals over five foot fences (apologies for mixed metric-phors) around fifteen times per race on average is down there with the worst of 'em. It would never be for a wuss like me. Although not big on machismo either, I have a robust respect for these turf-eating gladiators as a collective.

But when the wallet comes out, they are individuals. And I want to know which individuals will support my bottom line, in the same way that these jocks want to know which horses will provide the winners to propel them up the championship table. It's every man (and woman) for themselves. Nobody is more or less selfish than the next, either in the punting or riding ranks; and nor should they be.

To that end, the frailties of otherwise tremendous jockeys with enormous (and, in the main, well deserved and hard earned) reputations are power to the contrarian punters' elbow.

Ruby has won aboard 30% of the chasers he's ridden in the last five years. That's open water clear of the next best (McCoy 22%, Daryl Jacob and Noel Fehily 20%, Sam T-D and Paddy B 19%, Richard Johnson 18%). But, from a punting perspective, his negative ROI of 18.86% at SP during that time is surpassed by absolutely nobody in his Premier League peer group. Some of that, of course, relates to his stable's form with chasers, most of it to the over-exposure of the Mullins/Walsh/Ricci PR machine; that's neither here nor there in terms of wagering.

Meanwhile, on the flip side, the unfashionable Paddy Brennan not only wins at a 19% clip, he's also secured a profit of almost 60 points at SP in the same time frame, regardless of the Cue Card fallout.

Backing horses is not a beauty contest, nor is it about fashion. On the contrary, the value lies wherever the spotlight doesn't. And, even in the halogen glare of the media beam, punting pearls are left for those with peripheral vision. Always be asking questions, take nothing on trust. The data is here. Use it. It rarely lies.

I genuinely hope Ruby gets back in time for the Festival, and I further hope he has a fantastic time of it. But I'll not be touching his chase mounts there, or pretty much anywhere else. That's unlikely to trouble him, of course. Devil take the hindmost!

Matt