Ruby Walsh took the world of National Hunt racing by surprise when, immediately after winning the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy in May, 2019, he announced his retirement. In his 24-year career, Walsh rode over 2,500 winners, including 59 at the Cheltenham Festival – 23 ahead of his nearest pursuer, Barry Geraghty – and for several years had the pick of rides from Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, both champion trainers on their respective sides of the Irish Sea. Indeed, Willie Mullins, who has been Irish Champion National Hunt Trainer every season since 2007/08, described Walsh as ‘the daddy of them all’.
In fact, it was for County Carlow-based handler that Walsh rode his first Cheltenham Festival winner, Alexander Banquet in the Champion Bumper, as an 18-year-old amateur rider in 1998. He turned professional at the start of the following season and, in the next 18 years, was leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival 11 times, including five consecutive years between 2013 and 2017. In 2009, Walsh set a record by riding seven winners over the four days and equalled that record in 2016, by which time he had left his role as stable jockey to Paul Nicholls after over a decade commuting between Britain and Ireland.
Of the four main ‘championship’ races run at the Cheltenham Festival, Walsh won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice on Kauto Star, trained by Nicholls, the Champion Hurdle four times, on Hurricane Fly (twice), Faugheen and Annie Power, all trained by Mullins, the Queen Mother Champion Chase three times, on Azertyuiop and Master Minded (twice), both trained by Nicholls, and the Stayers’ Hurdle five times on Big Buck’s (four times), trained by Nicholls, and Nichols Canyon, trained by Mullins. Elsewhere on the Festival programme, he also won the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle eight times on Quevega (six times), Vroum Vroum Mag and Benie Des Dieux.