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Ruby is hailed as a great after surprise retirement

 

Respect: Ulster legend AP McCoy (left) hugs Ruby Walsh after retirement announcement at Punchestown yesterday
Respect: Ulster legend AP McCoy (left) hugs Ruby Walsh after retirement announcement at Punchestown yesterday

By Nick Robson

Ruby Walsh announced his retirement from the saddle after winning the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy yesterday.

The 39-year-old rider decided to end his brilliant career in the saddle following a two-length victory aboard Willie Mullins' charge in the Grade One event.

Walsh was seen to wave goodbye to the Punchestown crowd after Kemboy saw off the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo in fine style.

He retires having ridden over 2,500 winners and with more Cheltenham Festival successes to his name than any other rider in history.

Walsh said: "I think I knew going out that, if he won, I wouldn't be riding again. I probably thought the same with Rathvinden at Aintree.

"Nothing goes on forever and it has always been about big races - it doesn't get any bigger here than that.

"When a decision is made in your head, it's easy enough to say it, and I made it a good while ago. When I broke my leg at Cheltenham last year, I felt I couldn't do that again.

"Time moves on, I've done it for 24 years and to be honest I want to do something else over the next 24 - I'm just not sure what."

At one point he had the best of both worlds, riding as main jockey to Paul Nicholls in Britain and Willie Mullins in Ireland before deciding to spend more time at home.

He really burst on to the scene when winning the 2000 Grand National on Papillon, trained by his father Ted. He would also win the race on Mullins' Hedgehunter in 2005.

Perhaps the two horses who Walsh will be most remembered for, though, were Ulster's two-time Champion Hurdle hero Hurricane Fly and the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star.

Nicholls trained Kauto Star and Walsh was aboard for each of his five King George VI Chase wins, as well as his Festival triumphs among numerous other wins.

He said: "The relationship with Kauto Star obviously particularly comes to mind. We had some amazing days with him, all the King Georges, the Gold Cups.

"We had some fantastic horses at that time - Denman, Neptune Collonges, Big Bucks, Master Minded - they were all just great days."

Mullins said: "I thought when I saw him ride that winner that I wouldn't be surprised if he called it a day after that, and it's just great to see him go out doing what he does best.

"He's been a fantastic jockey, a fantastic ambassador for the sport and he's just a great man. He's one of the best jockeys ever to ride for us and will always be a friend. I just wish him all the best and I'm thrilled to see him go out like this, in one piece with no more injuries."

Mullins added: "Ruby was fantastic there, I'm delighted for him.

"The R word is never discussed in our house for people or horses.

"Ruby just got off him and said, 'Can you find someone for Livelovelaugh?' and I was thinking is he lame, concussed or dehydrated, but he said 'I'm out of here' and the penny dropped.

"What more can you say? I just shook his hand. It was totally out of the blue for me as well, we'd never discussed it. I had no idea.

"It's the end of an era, what a career he's had with me and Paul Nicholls, what a career.

"It will be strange without him. He was just a natural, he rode them naturally, from the first time I put him up on a difficult filly in a 24-runner bumper.

"A lot of thought went into him changing from amateur to professional, thankfully he did. He'll be hugely missed.

"We barely had a cross word the whole time, a difference of opinion maybe but never to a cross stage.

"I imagine Paul Townend will move up a step and it will move on seamlessly.

"He'll leave a big hole, but hopefully I can utilise Ruby in the future."

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