Paddy Power

Ruby Walsh exclusive: Why I’m leaving my role as No1 jockey for Paul Nicholls

by Paddy Power Admin | May 27, 2013

By Paul Mallon | exclusive

Ruby Walsh has told the Paddy Power Blog why he’s decided to leave his position as first jockey for Paul Nicholls’ Manor Farm stable.

In an interview on Sunday night, the Kildare man revealed he wants to spend more time with his family in Ireland — and less in airports at 6am.

Walsh (34), with a record 37 Cheltenham Festival winners, enjoyed a privileged position as the number one jockey for both Nicholls in the UK, and Willie Mullins in Ireland.

Ruby Walsh with Paul Nicholls, Gold Cup

KAUTO STAR MEN: Ruby Walsh with Paul Nicholls, lifting the Gold Cup in 2009 (pic: Inpho)

“This wasn’t an easy decision,” said Ruby. “I spoke to Paul after Punchestown in April and told him I had a decision to make. I started as Paul’s stable jockey in October 2002, but when I chose then to live in Ireland, this was always going to be a job that involved an awful lot of travelling.

“Up at 4.50am, out the door at five to be in Dublin Airport at 5.45am for a 6.30am flight. But in the best case scenario that means me walking back in the front door at at 8.15 or 8.30 that evening. The two girls are gone to bed. If I’m in England for two days that means getting back Wednesday night late and up and away to Willie and Irish racing on Thursday. By the time the week’s done, I may have seen my children for a couple of hours.”

So, it’s going to be more Naas and less Newbury for Walsh (and less revenue from his grade one winners for Her Majesty, of course), but Ruby hopes to extend his career with fewer races on the Irish National Hunt schedule in winter.

“Paul said he fully understood,” said Ruby. “My point was there was never an issue to go to ride on a Saturday for, say, Big Buck’s, Al Ferof, or Silviniaco Conti. But you can’t be somebody’s first jockey and not go ride all the maiden hurdlers, all the novice chases, and the lesser handicappers. You’re either in or you’re out. That’s the way I feel you have to be. I just didn’t feel like heading on to Taunton, Chepstow, Exeter, and all those places quite as much. Paul knows that if I’m not committed 100% to the project, it’s no good to either of us.”

‘Pick and choose’ policy not an issue

Ruby Walsh enjoyed a superb Cheltenham 2013 on Willie Mullins’ horses, on board for three winners in Champagne Fever, Hurricane Fly and Quevega. It was less successful for Nicholls, but Ruby said his unique position of being able to ‘pick and choose’ for either trainer had never been an issue this year, or previously.

“No, it hasn’t been a factor and that’s a measure of the two men involved,” Ruby told the Paddy Power Blog. “They’re both honest people, and I always went about it in an honest way as well. I suppose there was a certain amount of diplomacy, from me. They were both training their horses to be as good as they could and they both understood I could only ride one horse in one race. I guess they knew I’d be on the horse I wanted to be on rather than being on one under sufferance.

“This year at Cheltenham some of Paul’s horses didn’t fire; some of them weren’t good enough; and you’d have to say some were unlucky. Even though I didn’t ride Celestial Halo he missed the last in the World Hurdle, which might have cost him the race. Silviniaco Conti fell when he was going very well in the Gold Cup. You need a lot of luck in Cheltenham.”

Willie Mullins is hardly alone in recognising the talents of Ruby Walsh, but he puts it better than most. “He has huge racecraft and confidence in doing what he does even when it looks as though things aren’t going right. He has the ability to sit and suffer, which is a fantastic attribute for a jockey and play his card when he needs to play it,” Mullins has said.

Champagne Fever Willie and Ruby

LOYAL: Ruby on board Champagne Fever alongside Mullins before Cheltenham 2013 (pic: Inpho)

Asked about his recommendation to fill his shoes at Ditcheat, Ruby is, again, diplomatic. “It’s for Paul to answer, but he won’t have to look too far,” he said. Expect Daryl Jacob to be a busy man with the text messages this week. However, Ruby did confirm he would still ride for Nicholls, when asked, but without getting first choice.

“Paul has been responsible for some of the most amazing days in my racing life,” said Ruby. “From King George and Tingle Creeks to Champion Chases, World Hurdles and Gold Cups, he has been behind them all. With horses like Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded, Azertuiop, Strong Flow and Twist Magic to the current stars Big Bucks, Silvianco Conti and Al Ferof, great horses were and still are a staple diet in Ditcheat.”

Ruby’s greatest ride on a Paul Nicholls horse

Ruby is asked to consider his top ride on a Nicholls horse. There’s a long pause. He sounded sleepy, so I check if he’s still there. Finally…

Tidal Bay in the Lexus at Leopardstown at Christmas (2012). He was one that might not have won in a grade one. That was one of my better rides. Or any one of Kauto Star’s King Georges, really. But, if you were to tie me down to one, on Tidal Bay it was a day I got everything right,” said Ruby.

Five minutes later, he rings back.

“I thought of a better one. Big Buck’s. It was a grade two novices chase at Aintree (2008). Jumping fences was far from natural for him and at the time he was definitely a more difficult ride. It was one day I had to be a horseman and a jockey.”

So, mid-thirties, Ruby is now looking to prolong his career and see more of his wife and two girls, whether they like it or not.

Ruby said: “My daughter, Isabelle, was asking in the car this morning, “Can we go to England for a few days?”

It seems punters won’t be the only ones who will take some time getting used to this.

£6,715,918

Total prize-money won by Ruby Walsh on Paul Nicholls-trained grade one winners since April 2001 (source PaulNichollsRacing.com)

Twitter: @paulmallon1

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