The morn­ing line with Ted Walsh

Irish Examiner - Racing - - CHELTENHAM PREVIEW 2017 - Pat Keane

IN 1970, Ted Walsh paid his first visit to Cheltenham. Re­mark­ably, he’s never missed a fes­ti­val since. This week, how­ever, will be some­what dif­fer­ent to many that have gone be­fore. Walsh usu­ally went as a rider, trainer or work­ing for tele­vi­sion, but there will be no such pres­sures this time.

Where once he played a ma­jor part in Chan­nel 4’s cov­er­age, they no longer hold the rights to the meet­ing and have been re­placed by ITV.

Walsh said: “I worked for Chan­nel 4 for 15 or 16 years and was a reg­u­lar on their Morn­ing Line pro­gramme. In the early years, I was also a reg­u­lar through the day, but later on only made oc­ca­sional ap­pear­ances.’’

It will very much be a Cheltenham Fes­ti­val with a dif­fer­ence then, but Walsh says he won’t miss hav­ing to be com­mit­ted to Chan­nel 4.

“No, I won’t miss it, I’ve run my course, I have had my day, you move on. It will be nice to see fresh faces.’’

ITV took over ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion cov­er­age of rac­ing in Bri­tain on Jan­uary 1 and Walsh con­fesses to be­ing im­pressed so far.

“I like it, it’s dif­fer­ent’’, he said. “I like Oli Bell and Alice Plun­kett is great. I don’t know Ed Cham­ber­lain, but he’s very good. I’m not mad about the Luke Har­vey I see on At­ther­aces, but his se­ri­ous and knowl­edge­able side comes out on ITV and I like that.’’

Walsh has spent some 30 years, or more, at the fore­front of RTÉ’S cov­er­age of rac­ing and ex­plained how that came about. “The then head of sport, Tim O’Con­nor, wanted peo­ple who were in­volved in var­i­ous sports to get into broad­cast­ing and he went with me for rac­ing, prob­a­bly be­cause I was mouthy.’’

But back to 1970 and the first brush the then 20-yearold had with a fes­ti­val that was to sub­se­quently play a big part in his life and of his fam­ily, es­pe­cially son Ruby, and, to a lesser ex­tent, daugh­ter Katie.

The late and leg­endary Tom Dreaper asked Walsh if he would ride a horse called Dro­pit for him in the Kim Muir.

Dro­pit­wasn’tover­ly­fan­cied and cut lit­tle ice, but it merely whet­ted Walsh’s ap­petite.

“Cheltenham was every­thing and more that I ex­pected it to be, I was the same as a child on his first visit to Dis­ney­land,’’ re­vealed Walsh.

Dreaper, and Vin­cent O’Brien in the 50s, were the train­ers who largely de­cided whether Ire­land en­joyed a good fes­ti­val or not.

“I was too young to re­mem­ber Vin­cent train­ing Na­tional Hunt horses, but would lis­ten to my fa­ther (Ruby) and my un­cle Ted talk­ing about him,’’ said Walsh. “Vin­cent and Tom were mys­ti­cal fig­ures, al­most god-like. If they had a bad Cheltenham, chances were that Ire­land had a bad Cheltenham.’’

Fol­low­ing the O’BrienDreaper era, how­ever, there were many years when the Ir­ish had what could be best de­scribed as disas­trous Chel­tenhams, with most of our good young horses be­ing sold to own­ers in Bri­tain, al­most as soon as they in­di­cated a mod­icum of po­ten­tial.

Walsh said: “The 80’s was par­tic­u­larly bad and there was a lull for a long time.’’

But, of course, the face of Na­tional Hunt rac­ing has since com­pletely changed and last year Ire­land had 15 win­ners to Bri­tain’s 13.

Walsh is a big fan of the rel­a­tively new dy­namic that drives the game here at home. “I re­call when Martin Pipe would run 35 or 40 horses at Cheltenham and think­ing: ‘My God there are train­ers in Ire­land who don’t even have that many horses.

“When Tom Dreaper sent horses­toChel­tenhamit­would only be maybe seven or eight. But Wil­lie Mullins changed every­thing and will be send­ing a big team, as will Gor­don El­liott, and there will be other Ir­ish train­ers with plenty of run­ners as well.

“The fact that so many English own­ers want to have their horses in train­ing here is fantastic. You have the Wylies, the Potts’ and Si­mon Mu­nir and Rich Ricci, of course, is Amer­i­can. Wil­lie and Gor­don have a good few English own­ers and those peo­ple­seem to like com­ing to Ire­land, whether it is to Leop­ard- stown, Punchestown, wher­ever. And then you have our own own­ers, such as Gig­gin­stown, JP McManus and Barry Con­nell.

“Tom Dreaper had English own­ers, the likes of Anne Duchess Of West­min­ster (owner of Arkle), but they were liv­ing in Ire­land.

“I know you can ar­gue that train­ers in Ire­land down the line are be­ing squeezed, but you have to raise stan­dards. I’m a small trainer, but do not be­grudge those at the top any­thing, they are so fo­cused.’’ Walsh is pos­si­bly a tri­fle be­mused, as so many of us are, at the man­ner in which the Na­tional Hunt game has so dra­mat­i­cally al­tered with the Ir­ish now ca­pa­ble of tak­ing on the best Bri­tain has to of­fer. That rep­re­sents a mas­sive seachange and, of course, Ir­ish jock­eys, both home-based and across chan­nel, are in a po­si­tion of pre­em­i­nence.

Walsh said: “Three of the best ama­teur rid­ers this coun­try ever pro­duced are Con­nie Vaughan, Bill McLer­non and Francis Flood and none of them ever rode a win­ner at Cheltenham.

“Frank Berry (10-times Ir­ish cham­pion) was a great jockey and rode his share of win­ners at Cheltenham, in­clud­ing Glen­car­rig Lady in the Gold Cup and Bob­sline in the Arkle. But, in my opin­ion, he never got the num­ber of rides there his tal­ents de­served.’’

So, onto more press­ing mat­ters and the win­ner of the Gold Cup? I’m half ex­pect­ing him to re­spond with Djakadam, who will be rid­den by Ruby. But no, he heads in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

“I think what­ever beats Na­tive River will win, he jumps and stays. Djakadam goes fresh and has a great chance, but he’s had great chances be­fore and I was a bit dis­ap­pointed with him at Leop­ard­stown at Christ­mas. I can’t see Cue Card win­ning, I think three and a quar­ter miles will stretch him.’’

Walsh is on the side of Yan­worth, for what he con­sid­ers “a wide-open’’ Cham­pion Hur­dle. “When it comes to the nitty-gritty, he won’t be found want­ing.’’

I point out that, in the ab­sence of the in­jured Barry Ger­aghty, Yan­worth will now be part­nered by Mark Walsh, who has never rid­den a win­ner at the fes­ti­val.

“Mark is as good a rider as you will get, Yan­worth will

lack noth­ing from the sad­dle. And, any­way, most of the horses Mark has rid­den at Cheltenham up to now Ma­hat­maGand­hi­wouldn’thave­won on!’’

Ted is some­what un­con­vinced by the cre­den­tials the talk­ing horse Melon brings to the ta­ble for the fes­ti­val opener, the Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle. “He’s no Dou­van or Vau­tour. They (the Mullins camp) are bullish about him, but we can only go on what we have seen and he has beaten noth­ing.’’

Nor is he con­vinced re­gard­ing Mullins’ Yorkhill, the warm favourite for the JLT Novices’ Chase.

“There is no deny­ing he has a big en­gine,’’ said Walsh, “but of all the horses Ruby rides this week he is the one in which he will not be in to­tal con­trol. My worry is that it will be Yorkhill’s way and not Ruby’s way.’’

Walsh be­lieves that both Dou­van (Cham­pion Chase ) and Al­tior (Arkle) only have to “stand up’’ to land their re­spec­tive races.

He fan­cies Gor­don El­liott’s Ap­ple’s Jade, with the ob­vi­ous dan­ger be­ing Li­mini, in the OLBG Mares’ Hur­dle, Let’s Dance in the Trull House Stand Mares’ Novice Hur­dle and On The Fringe in the Fox­hunter Chase.

And­whatabout­the­ex­cit­ing front-run­ner, Un De Sceaux, in the Ryanair Chase?

“The ground will be a fac­tor, he will be un­beat­able on soft or heavy.’’

For the ex­tended Walsh fam­ily, the Cheltenham Fes­ti­val is a fam­ily rit­ual. Home for Ted and his wife, He­len, will be a large cot­tage in a court­yard near the track. They will be joined by son, Ted Jnr, his wife, Nina Car­berry, and daugh­ters Jen­nifer and Katie and their re­spec­tive hus­bands, Kil­lian and Ross. No sign of Ruby then? “He will be in the cot­tage next door, comes the re­sponse. “There are seven or eight cot­tages in to­tal and all the res­i­dents will be Ir­ish, in­clud­ing Wil­lie Mullins, Gor­don El­liott and Noel Meade.’’

Next month Ted Walsh will be 67. Does Cheltenham still ex­cite him as much as ever?

He gives a qual­i­fied re­ply. “It does in that Ruby is in­volved in nearly ev­ery race and Katie is in­volved as well.

“But I don’t bet and be­lieve there are too many or­di­nary races run at the fes­ti­val. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Cheltenham has done a great job mak­ing medi­ocre races seem im­por­tant. They are ma­gi­cians to drag it out to four days. But if Ruby and Katie weren’t rid­ing at the meet­ing, and I didn’t have a run­ner, then I wouldn’t go.’’

SPE­CIAL DAY: Katie Walsh en­joys the mo­ment with her fa­ther Ted after win­ning the 2015 Ir­ish Grand Na­tional on Thun­der And Roses. The Cheltenham Fes­ti­val is a real fam­ily affair for the Walsh fam­ily.

Pic­ture: Pat Mur­phy /Sports­file

<<Melon is put through his paces at Wil­lie Mullins’ gal­lops. Ted Walsh is un­con­vinced about his fes­ti­val prospects.

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