Riding legend Walsh bows out after 24 years

Dublin (AFP) –


Ruby Walsh, one of the greatest jump jockeys of all time, announced his retirement on Wednesday after landing the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy.

The 39-year-old Irishman announced to a surprised winning trainer Willie Mullins after he came back to the winners enclosure that was the last time the formidable duo would team up.

He hangs up his boots having ridden a record 59 Cheltenham Festival winners -- including two Gold Cups on the remarkable Kauto Star -- and two Grand Nationals including Papillon in 2000, especially emotional as it was trained by his father Ted.

Walsh said he had always aimed to bow out with a big win -- it would have come earlier had Mullins's Rathvinden landed the Grand National last month where he finished third.

"That's it, you'll never see me on a horse again -? I'm finished," Walsh told reporters. "I'm not going out for the next one."

Walsh, who rode nigh on 2,800 winners in his 24-year career, had his fair share of injuries in his career.

"When I broke my leg in Cheltenham last year I felt I couldn't do that again," said Walsh.

"When my mind's made up that's it. I don't like sitting on the fence."

Walsh, who plans to focus on TV work, said it was hard to list the greatest horse he had ridden -- aside from Kauto Star there was also another Paul Nicholls-trained great champion staying hurdler Big Buck's.

"If there's been a good horse there's a good chance I rode them," said Walsh.

"I worked with the two best trainers, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls."

- 'Fantastic ambassador' -

Both Mullins and Nicholls -- who was present at Punchestown which is Irish jump racing's equivalent of Cheltenham -- paid handsome tributes to Walsh.

Mullins, the most successful trainer of all time at the Cheltenham Festival, had been surprised by the 12-time Irish champion jockey's sudden decision.

"The 'R' word is never discussed in our house, either for humans or horses!" joked Mullins.

"It's the end of an era. What a career he's had. He will be hugely missed and will leave a big hole in the yard."

Mullins announced that soon-to-be-crowned champion jockey Paul Townend, who gave him his first win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup this season on Al Boum Photo, will replace Walsh.

Nicholls said he would recall Walsh's special relationship with Kauto Star -- who aside from his two Gold Cups also landed a remarkable five King George VI Chases.

"He's been a fantastic jockey, a fantastic ambassador for the sport and he's just a great man," said Nicholls.

"He's one of the best jockeys ever to ride for us and will always be a friend."

There was a generous tribute too from his long-time rival two-time Grand National winner Tiger Roll's jockey Davy Russell, who is the same age as Walsh.

"Without a doubt he's the best we've ever seen as a rider," said Russell.

"He made everybody else be better. On top of everything he's a gentleman."