What’s your earliest #Cheltenham memory? For me, that’s a bit of a tricky question. In one sense, it was the unforgettable day that #DawnRun did indeed begin to get up and claim the #GoldCup. Your columnist hadn’t yet turned five years old, but, Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s dulcet tones conveyed utter drama as one was stricken in a hospital bed following major surgery.
In terms of being tuned into and fond of racing, it was equally clear something significant was afoot when “Ted Walsh’s son” partnered Commanche Court to win the Triumph Hurdle back in the day. Now, as anyone who has been reading output from this outlet for a period of time will know, quite a while was taken to warm to racing. Even when the appeal wasn’t great, though, Ted Walsh was the one figure who was recognised and enjoyed.
As time went by, a special affinity with and fondness for Paul Carberry became manifest. Owing to the blessing it was to have crossed paths with his boss, Mr Meade. Those feelings will eternally endure.
However, where Irish racing fans of a certain vintage justifiably rave about the proven greatness of Charlie Swan, had an onlooker been even loosely attuned to affairs of the turf for the best part of the last two decades, it would’ve been abundantly clear that observation of Ruby Walsh at his zenith – which shows no sign of easing up any time soon – was to behold an extremely special period in the history of the sport.
Detractors – and there’ll always be a few for whatever reason – will doubtless highlight the fact that the ten time champion has had the backing of two of the greatest yards ever to grace the sport in Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls. But such a stance pays an insulting disservice to the brilliance of the man steering the winners.
Here’s a comparison – David Moyes inherited the same squad Sir Alex Ferguson departed as Manchester United manager by winning the league with, he embellished it in fact. Louis Van Gaal has also made some astronomical acquisitions since taking over at Old Trafford. Yet both have been spectacular failures in their roles. Moral of the story? Having the artillery is one thing, being able to deploy it to best effect is entirely another.
Ruby and AP McCoy are great friends and were fierce rivals. Neither might agree with the following assessment, but, to me at least, they were similar in many ways too. With respect to other riders past and past, think of the amount of winners there have been that may never have materialised had either not been the man atop. Remember Wichita Lineman? Or Killultagh Vic in Ruby’s case more recently.
Remember, too, the injuries both have repeatedly overcome in order to maintain their superiority with such longevity. The sense which prevailed upon McCoy clocking up 4,000 wins that nobody would ever get near such a feat now looks a bit shaky. In one way, the true magnificence of Richard Johnson is perhaps now only fully appreciable. That’s not necessarily right, but, gut feeling always was that no matter how many successes the affable pilot chalked up, he would have to play second fiddle to AP for as long as the latter was on the go. Dickie’s brilliance could never be doubted though and, having now, been given a clear run at centre stage he has merely re-enforced it.
In different times, the recent achievement of Philip Hobbs’s retained rider in chalking up 3,000 successes would rank as one of the greatest achievements racing has ever seen. The man from Toomebridge in Antrim exited stage left with the bar considerably raised for those he left behind.
On the other hand, such has been the increase in the amount of racing, even from the time AP set out, and the improvement in the quality of horses and jockeys on the circuit means that those in the saddle now have enhanced opportunities to rack up big totals over the course of careers which appear to be getting longer as well.
Still, some of the achievements now being accomplished are staggering. Thus, I was very grateful to be in situ to see history unfold once again at Gowran Park on Thyestes day. Grateful to my fellow members of the Brady’s (Dunboyne) Betting Club and most especially to Eoghan D’Arcy for once again enabling me to join the club’s annual outing to the wonderful Kilkenny venue.
The historic happening referred to was, of course, Ruby Walsh’s passing of the 2,500 winner mark. The man himself, after scoring on Au Quart De Tour, downplayed his achievement, maintaining that it was considerably behind what Johnson and McCoy had done. Methinks he might get near to their magic numbers before too long.
Robbie Power ensured there’d be a local connection to the big race winner when partnering the Liam Burke trained My Murphy who just outstayed Gordon Elliott’s Mala Beach in a cracking finish. Both are worth following.