I want to be a Walsh. We all know that Ruby is racing’s golden boy, hailed by some (usually after they’ve backed a winner he has ridden) as the greatest jump jockey ever. Today he became the most successful jockey at the Cheltenham Festival of all time, riding his 26th winner on Sanctaire. Mind you, he also had two cracking falls and was beaten on the biggest certainty of the week.
But I bet the win that means most to the Walsh family today was Katie’s in the four-mile slog that is the National Hunt Chase. To see Katie and Nina Carberry fighting it out with every ounce of their being up the finishing straight — and then hugging each other afterwards — was the best possible start to the day. A one-two for girls at the Festival must be a first.
Of course, it helps enormously that they come from two of the most famous families in Irish racing and have had far more opportunities than a girl without that back-up would have done. But you’ve still got to ride the horses — and trainers simply aren’t sentimental enough to jock them up in jump racing’s theatre of dreams if they can’t cut it.
We’ve had good female jump jockeys before — Gee Armytage won two races in a day here — but they have been thin on the ground. Jump racing is pretty rough and tough and, often, trainers haven’t wanted to put them up in case they got hurt. And, realistically, they just aren’t going to be as strong in a finish as AP, Choc, Ruby et al.
But you can’t beat these two for guts and determination. Fair play to them both. And they might even be sisters soon — Nina goes out with Katie’s brother Ted. We know how good Nina is — when she won the Fred Winter Novices’ Hurdle here three years ago, she became the first woman to beat male professional jockeys at the Festival since 1987, and has a total of three Cheltenham Festival winners to her name — but we need more girls having a cut at the boys and Katie is a very welcome addition.
Katie’s ride, Poker De Sivola, is entered in the Irish and Scottish Nationals next. Go on, Ferdy Murphy, be brave and leave her on it. What a story that would be.