Walsh re­tires after thrilling vic­tory in her fi­nal race

Sam­cro fall seals 11th train­ers’ ti­tle in a row for Wil­lie Mullins

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Brian O’Con­nor Rac­ing Cor­re­spon­dent at Punchestown

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.

Pi­o­neer­ing ca­reer

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.

Un­scathed

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ALAN CROWHURST/GETTY IM­AGES

Rob­bie Power drives Su­pa­sun­dae clear to win The Bet­daq Cham­pion Hur­dle at Punchestown yes­ter­day.

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