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Page last updated at 20:42 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Ruby's family affair at Cheltenham

By Frank Keogh

Ruby Walsh on Sanctuaire
Ruby Walsh ended the drought for Paul Nicholls with his win on Sanctuaire

Beautiful Kildare in Ireland is marketed as 'the thoroughbred county' - and with good reason.

It is littered with racecourses, stud farms and stables. There is even a suggestion its grass is particularly nutritious for horses.

Ruby Walsh, who has won two Cheltenham Gold Cups on Kauto Star, hails from there, and so did Pat Taaffe, the partner of legendary steeplechaser Arkle.

In fact, they were born in the same parish of Kill (population 2,510). So, there was a certain neatness when Walsh surpassed Taaffe as the man who has ridden the most winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

His ice-cool ride on Sanctuaire brought home a 26th victory at the home of jump racing, and just like every other one, he was modest about his own achievements.

"I don't know I'll hold on to the record for long given that AP [McCoy] is only four behind. It's not something I set out to do because it's not something you think will happen, but it's a nice one to have," said Walsh.

"Pat Taaffe lived on one side of the motorway and we lived on the other. I remember going racing with my grandfather [also called Ruby] and picking up Pat's horses to take to the races.

"Anyone in racing would talk about Arkle and that meant they talked about Pat Taaffe, who also won four Grand Nationals.


"He was very lucky to ride for Tom Dreaper and I've been very lucky to ride for Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls - that's what wins records for you, big teams."

Walsh is only 30 but his hair is as grey as Desert Orchid, and he wears the wisdom of a man twice his age.

Earlier in the day he suffered two falls and the defeat of dual Champion Chaser Master Minded, who went down to the Irish one-two of Big Zeb and Forpadydeplasterer on St Patrick's Day.

"That's racing, that's the ups and downs," said the jockey, whose quickfire rat-a-tat answers illustrate an energetic mind.

"They are not machines. You can't turn them on and turn them off, decide when to collect your winnings and when not."

As well as the Champion Chase, an Irish-trained runner claimed the RSA Chase - sometimes referred to as the Gold Cup for novice chasers.

I don't want to sound soft but this is definitely the best day of my life

Katie Walsh

Weapon's Amnesty outjumped his better-touted rivals Long Run and Punchestowns, to the delight of owner Michael O'Leary, the boss of budget airline Ryanair.

O'Leary has little time for the Paddywhackery that surrounds the day which celebrates Ireland's patron saint.

"To have any winner at Cheltenham any day is good enough. If it was on St George's Day, I couldn't care less," he said.

O'Leary was unsure if his horse would be aimed at the big one, the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011.

The sport's blue riband event is firmly on the Friday radar this year for Walsh, who rides dual winner Kauto Star against stablemate Denman and nine others.

Before that there is Thursday to consider, when he is aboard another favourite for Nicholls, the reigning champion Big Buck's in the World Hurdle.

"He should handle the ground and he is in good form," he said.

Walsh, whose dad Ted had four wins as a jockey at the Festival and is now an eloquent TV pundit, was on hand to congratulate his younger sister Katie when she started the meeting's second day with a victory.

Katie on Poker De Sivola beat Nina Carberry, who dates Ted Walsh Jr, on Becauseicouldntsee in an unprecedented Festival first two for female riders.

"Ruby said well done to me but he didn't really need to say anything, the look in his eyes said it all. He knows what it means," said a tearful Katie, 25.

"I couldn't believe turning in that Nina was coming - I thought 'Jesus, of all people, not Nina'. But I put my head down and it's just lucky that it paid off.

"I'm lost for words. I don't want to sound soft but this is definitely the best day of my life.

"My father is the person I go to whenever I need something. I know how much it means to him, it means so much to me as well."

Even trainer Ferdy Murphy is almost part of the clan.

"I go a long way back with the Walsh family and Ruby and Katie's grandfather was like a father figure to me and many people. He was a very shrewd man that you always listened to. I'm so delighted for her family," he said.

Winning brothers, sisters, fathers, grandfathers. It must be in the breeding.

"I heard Ted blew the microphone system in the TV commentary box he was shouting so loud for his daughter," comic Patrick Kielty told me.

A Paddy on Paddy's Day talking about father Ted. Could it get any more Irish?

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see also
Big Buck's cruises to Hurdle win
18 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Big Zeb lands Champion Chase win
17 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Cheltenham day two photos
17 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Cheltenham Festival day two as it happened
17 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Binocular lands Champion Hurdle
16 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
BBC racing coverage
09 Apr 11 |  Horse Racing

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