There’s that old saying in showbusiness that you should always go out when you are on top.
It was a motif that Ruby Walsh took quite literally on Wednesday when he announced his immediate retirement from racing after winning the Punchestown Gold Cup.
The 39-year-old had just saddled Kemboy to victory in the day’s headline race, and shocked even his closest connections when announcing his immediate retirement from the sport shortly after.
“That’s it,” he said after guiding his charge to a thrilling victory over Al Boum Photo. “When you’re going out at Punchestown, you go out on a winner. You’ll never again see me on a horse – I’m finished. That’s it – it’s all over.
“I’ve had an incredible career. It’s all about big races and you want to go out on a big one. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. Punchestown is home, and it’s time for something new. Nothing lasts forever.”
His last ride was trademark Walsh, with Kemboy timing his charge to the line to perfection to oust Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and stablemate Al Boum Photo by two lengths, and as sign-offs go it was right up there as an act of defiance and a celebration of one of the finest jockeys ever to pull on the silks.
His retirement comes just weeks after that of his old mate Noel Fehily, and the timing of it surprised everyone in racing; not least one of his closest allies, Willie Mullins.
“We were caught on the hop today when Ruby announced his retirement. He has been with us since he was 16 and a huge part of our team,” the trainer tweeted on Wednesday evening.
“Such a natural talent, he is one of the best we have ever seen. Best of luck Ruby and your family on your very well deserved retirement.”
Prolific Winner Calls It a Day
Injuries are so often to blame for the retirement of sportsmen and women, and while the curtain has come down on Ruby’s career by his own choosing, a couple of devastating blows certainly haven’t helped his longevity.
His broken leg suffered at the Cheltenham Festival of 2018 was a catalyst for his decision, with Walsh himself saying that ‘when I broke my leg at Cheltenham last year, I felt I couldn’t do that again.’
And so a career that began almost unbelievably in 1995 comes to an end, with more than 2,500 winners to look back on.
Many of those will be forgotten to the sands of time, of course, but Ruby has enjoyed plenty of momentous wins in his time that will live long in the memory.
The 39-year-old is a two-time Grand National winner aboard Papillon in 2000 and Hedgehunter five years later.
His record of 59 winners at the Cheltenham Festival is more than any other jockey in history, with his two Gold Cup wins on Kauto Star arguably the highlight. Walsh is an eleven-time champion jockey at the Festival, and his 2009 haul – when he won seven races including the Gold Cup, RSA Chase and Queen Mother Champion Chase – will surely never be beaten.