Ireland's 12-time Champion Jumps jockey Ruby Walsh shocked Punchestown on Wednesday as he called time on a glittering career.
The 39-year-old had won the featured Punchestown Gold Cup on the Willie Mullins-trained Kemboy, and broke the news in his post-race interview, simply saying: "You’ll never see me on a horse again, I’m finished."
His words hushed the busy parade ring, though not for long, as applause broke out and a scrum of photographers swamped the rider and his emotional family.
Congratulations to my great friend @Ruby_Walsh on an amazing career. He was like Lionel Messi on a horse. What he had is uncoachable unteachable just better than everyone else.— AP McCoy (@AP_McCoy) May 1, 2019
A Stunning Announcement
His with Gillian, their daughters Isabelle, Elsa and Gemma, surrounded him, sister Jennifer, his agent, father Ted, a television presenter, and brother Ted junior, all rushing to hug him.
Mullins, his boss for so many years, said that the first he knew was when Walsh dismounted Kemboy moments earlier.
"It was totally out of the blue," he said. "He just got off and said, 'I think you’ll have to find someone for Livelovelaugh,' and I thought why? Is he lame, is he dehydrated, is he concussed? Then he said, 'I’m outta here,' and the penny dropped. I called him back to me and shook his hand. What more can you say."
Together, Mullins and Walsh have won the Grand National, countless Cheltenham Festival races, even more Punchestown Festival tests, in a long partnership that has never faltered.
More than 2,000 winners sit on Walsh's CV, and he was quick to praise his father Ted, who was also a jockey, for the talent that earned those.
"I was very lucky, I got great tuition as a kid from my father," he said. "I had a great agent, who minded me in Jennifer, and I worked for the two best trainers, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls."I was determined I would always beat injury and injury wouldn’t beat me. I made the decision some time last summer, I said if I can get through this year, I’ll get out at Punchestown. Then Rathvinden came along, but Tiger Roll got in the way."
What's Next for Walsh
Walsh will now focus on the media career he had already been working on around racing, with broadcasters Racing TV and RTE, the bookmaker Paddy Power, and newspaper the Irish Examiner.
"I’ve great connections with those people," he said, "and instead of them being on the sidelines, fitting in around racing, they’ll be my life."
As the news sank in, Mullins remembered the first time he saw Walsh ride, describing the day as the 'end of era'
He said: "What a riding career. What a career he’s had with Paul Nicholls, with me. It’s going to be strange and much more difficult without his assistance.
"He just rode races naturally, from the first time I put him up at Leopardstown as a 16-year-old in a 24-runner bumper. He rode a very difficult filly and he was just naturally talented. Myself and (wife) Jackie said that, day he’s going to be a bright force for the future.
"Little did I know it was going to be as a professional, I thought it would be as an amateur. A lot of thought went into him changing to a professional. Thankfully he did, and he’s just been spectacular. He’s going to hugely missed in our camp. "
Paul Townend, so long Walsh's deputy at Mullins's yard, will on Saturday be crowned Irish Champion Jumps jockey for the second time, with now many more chances of victory to look forward to.