Walsh retires after thrilling victory in her final race
Samcro fall seals 11th trainers’ title in a row for Willie Mullins
A Punchestown festival already full of drama took another twist yesterday when the pioneering amateur jockey Katie Walsh retired from the saddle on the back of a superb winning final ride.
Walsh, 33, guided the Willie Mullins-trained Antey to a thrilling success and promptly announced it was her final ride.
The Irish Grand National and Cheltenham festival-winning jockey said: “This is it for me. I’ve had a marvellous career and have brilliant memories. It’s time for the next chapter in my life. I wanted to ride a winner on my last ride and go out on my own terms and I’m glad about that.”
She was surrounded by friends and family in the winners’ enclosure, including her brother, champion jockey Ruby Walsh, her father, the trainer and television pundit Ted Walsh, and her husband, trainer Ross O’Sullivan.
The news came as a shock to many in the record 33,082 Ladies’ Day crowd, and Walsh received a guard of honour from her fellow riders as she weighed in following Antey’s 9-1 success.
“I’m delighted it’s here at Punchestown. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. And I’m delighted it was for Willie. Without him I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had.
“I’ve ridden winners in Cheltenham, France, Australia. I’ve ridden six times in the Aintree National. Like anyone I would have loved to have won an Aintree National. But every other dream I had has happened,” she added.
It sees the end of a pioneering career in the saddle for the hugely popular jockey, who helped break new ground for female riders with high-profile victories such as winning the Irish Grand National in 2015 on Thunder And Roses.
She also rode three winners at the Cheltenham festival, the last of them just last month on Relegate in the Champion Bumper. Her third on Seabass in 2012 remains the closest a woman has come to riding a winner of the Aintree National.
Walsh wasn’t supposed to ride Antey, but Noel Fehily was stood down after a fall earlier on the card and Walsh stepped in. She produced a superb performance to get the better of Barry Geraghty on the runner-up Shady Operator.
“It’s as good a day as any. It’s sad for Helen [Katie’s mother] and myself because we’ve had great fun with her. But she’s achieved more things than she could have dreamed. And it’s great she finished coming out the right side with a great rider like Barry,” an emotional Ted Walsh said.
The news came the day before the National Hunt season finale when Willie Mullins will be crowned champion trainer for the 11th year in a row.
Mullins has an unassailable prizemoney lead of ¤541,258 over his great rival Gordon Elliott after picking up over ¤1.4 million this week alone.
Mullins had to settle for two winners yesterday but he has a remarkable ¤5,680,900 in the bag overall compared to the challenger’s ¤5,139,752. Mullins needs another two winners today to equal his record 2015 festival haul of 16.
Any last glimmer of a chance Elliott had to keep the title fight going to the end finished after Samcro lost his unbeaten record with a dramatic fall at the third last of yesterday’s Betdaq Champion Hurdle.
The 5-6 favourite was still travelling well until coming down and his market rival Melon fell almost simultaneously at the same obstacle.
It left Jessica Harrington’s 7-1 shot Supasundae in to win. Both Samcro and Melon emerged unscathed.
Harrington and jockey Robbie Power had earlier won too with Magic Of Light, although it was a rare interruption to Mullins’s festival hot streak.
“Obviously I’m pleased to win but I don’t take any pleasure from beating Gordon because he is such a great competitor and I know how he’ll be feeling,” Mullins said. “Having great opposition is what raises the bar for everyone.”
Elliott had some Grade One consolation for Samcro’s tumble as Dortmund Park sprang a 16-1 surprise in the Profile Systems Novice Hurdle.
“We’ve had a great year – and Willie is 22 or 23 years older than me!” he jokingly pointed out. “And the last 10 years we’ve been improving the standard all the time. Maybe we struggle a bit with the older horses in the championship races. But if we keep buying enough of them we’ll be fine.”
His immediate priority was Samcro, who – up until his mishap – had looked to make light of stepping out of novice class for the first time, jumping and travelling with impressive fluency.
“Jack [Kennedy] said he just skidded. He didn’t make a mistake, just didn’t get his landing gear out,” said Elliott.
Both he and Eddie O’Leary, spokesman for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud, said it was too soon to make a decision on whether Samcro stays over hurdles next season or goes over fences.
Robbie Power drives Supasundae clear to win The Betdaq Champion Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday.