Paddy Power Racing Ambassador Ruby Walsh has ridden many racing greats throughout his career.
But in his latest column with Paddy Power News (news.paddypower.com) he spills the beans on the one’s that got away as the 12 time champion jockey lifts the lid on the 10 greatest equine rivals he come up against during his time in the saddle.
I still remember the first time I rode against him.
It was in the 1997 McManus Hurdle in Tipperary and I was on a horse called Native-Darrig and he went by me down the back straight like I was standing still.
He just pushed me out of the way and I couldn’t believe the power and speed in which he went by me with seven furlongs to go in a race. I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘that is some racehorse’.
I even remember him running in the Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle and Charlie (Swan) walking him out stone last and then going back to watch him win his three Champion Hurdles after that. The way he won his Champion Hurdles, they were never in doubt. He picked it up at the back of the second last, set sail off the bend and it was just a case of how far he was going to win by.
He was just so dominant. He was such a good jumper and if you look at all the great pictures of him, he’s in mid-air and you can’t even see some of the hurdles in the pictures.
You go back to his Sun Alliance win, he nearly got knocked down at the second last and then they all came at him at the finish. But they just couldn’t get by him. And when he went back to two miles, it didn’t matter what the others did, they just couldn’t beat him. He had the speed, he had the stamina, he was an incredible jumper.
You can argue about the others if they were the greatest at their division but there’s no argument with Istabraq. To me, he was the greatest hurdler I ever saw and he just had everything. He’s my number one and that’s why I would have loved to have ridden him.
I beat him on Al Ferof in a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2011 and that was the last time I ever finished in front of him.
From that day forward, he was just incredible. He was an amazing racehorse and the day which still stands out in my mind is the day he blew away Cue Card and Flemenstar at Aintree.
I remember looking at him after he turned into the straight and thinking to myself ‘My God!’
Flemenstar was trying to keep him in a pocket and Barry Geraghty just moved him out of the way like he wasn’t there. That was the day for me.
Even going back to the way he travelled in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2011, even though he was beaten, he had everybody talking about him. I remember standing in the weigh-room in Cheltenham and watching him winning his novice chase under David Bass in Doncaster. Barry Geraghty was standing beside me and it was almost like he was riding him. He was that excited watching him. He was just an unbelievable racehorse. The pace he had. The power he had to jump. The scope he had. Just the ability he had.
I remember him going to the last ditch in the Arkle in 2012 and I was on Al Ferof and I was trying to put him under pressure. I was half a length in front and I went for a big one and didn’t make it. Sprinter Sacre took off at the same time and from further behind me and landed at the same distance he took off at the far side of the fence. What an Arkle that was, as Cue Card was second and Al Ferof was third and Sprinter absolutely skated in. I mean to arrive on the bridle in the Champion Chase the following year at the last under Barry Geraghty and absolutely sluice in.
And then to have the issues he had and come back and to beat Special Tiara and Un De Sceaux the way he did in the 2016 Champion Chase with Nico De Boinville, what a racehorse. Altior is a fabulous racehorse but I just think that Sprinter was that little bit better.
When you look at it in the cold light of day, Best Mate won three Gold Cups.
Everybody sets out to buy a Gold Cup horse. Every trainer dreams of training a Gold Cup horse. Every jockey dreams of riding a Gold Cup horse. And here’s a horse who won three!
Because he was so lightly campaigned, I don’t know if he garnered the appreciation that he should have. He has done something that only Arkle has managed to do.
What must it have been like to ride him the first year in 2002 and then go back and ride him the second year and then the third year and win again. I mean, what a racehorse.
Even from his early days, he was running against the best horses around but that tends to crop up with the really good horses.
He was second to Monsignor in the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown and he was second to Sausalito Bay in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Both in the same season.
And he beat Bindaree, a future Grand National winner, in his novice chase.
I felt I had one great chance to beat him on Commanche Court in the 2002 Cheltenham Gold Cup and I’d still like to do things differently.
But that year, there was no hiding place with See More Business, Marlborough, Alexander Banquet and What’s Up Boys in the race. They were all proper horses.
The second year, he hacked up and then the third year, he got caught in a pocket by Harbour Pilot and still managed to win.
Now, he was brilliantly trained and Jim Culloty gave him some great rides to win the three Gold Cups. Maybe Al Boum Photo will win three Cheltenham Gold Cups but Best Mate did it. If you wanted a Gold Cup horse, he was your horse.
I saw the wrong side of Altior on several occasions and I did everything I could to beat him and never did.
I first saw him when he won a novice hurdle in Chepstow. That was the first time I noticed him and I thought to myself at the time, ‘Nicky Henderson has a novice ready for Chepstow in October – He can’t be the real deal!’ But by God, did he prove me wrong. While he was flashy as a novice hurdler and a novice chaser, and even in his first year as an Open chaser, to the naked eye, he now seems to have got lazy but he keeps winning.
He’s a safe jumper and he’s got lots of speed. He’s been beaten once in his last 21 runs. That’s incredible.
The day he beat Min in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016, he rounded off the bend and he just blew me away. He did the very same thing the year he won the Arkle and even in his first Champion Chase in 2018, Min looked to have him on the stretch at the second last and by the time we got to the winning post, it was a one horse race. I tried everything to beat him.
Sat behind him, gave him a lead, got beside him, got away from him. There just didn’t seem to be any way of beating him. He’s just an incredible, incredible racehorse. It’s almost like he knows where the winning post is and I’d have loved to be on his back.
The Grand National is the race that you dream of winning as a kid and to think that you could ride a horse who would win two, and still has the potential to win a third one – like who wouldn’t want to ride him?
He’s low. He’s accurate. He’s won five times at the Cheltenham festival. He’s won two Grand Nationals. From the Triumph Hurdle to the National Hunt Chase to the Cross Country Chase and all the way to two Grand Nationals.
He even got injured earlier in his career after he won his Triumph Hurdle but time heals all and he’s come back a better and stronger horse for it. He’s the perfect example that you don’t need a big horse to win around Aintree as he suits the course as it is now because he’s a low, slick jumper. I’d love to be looking into the summer of 2020 thinking that I was riding Tiger Roll in the 2021 Grand National. He’s some racehorse.
I knew plenty about Moscow Flyer when I was riding because, while I finished in front of him the odd time, I finished behind him a lot more times.
He was an incredible horse. It was amazing to think that he couldn’t win a bumper and when he was running over hurdles, he looked like he wanted to go further. Yet, when he went chasing, he was an incredible two-mile chaser.
Now, he had the habit of missing the odd fence but at that level and racing at that speed, if you’re not taking chances, you don’t win. And it was almost like he knew that himself.
I rode Azertyuiop, who was a hell of a good horse, but Moscow was just better than him. And Well Chief too. He was another brilliant horse. But ‘Moscow’ was just better than the both of them. Everybody remembers that 2004 Tingle Creek and that was a great race. Moscow had beaten Azertyuiop in it the previous year but that day, the gallop was end-to-end and Moscow was in control from so far out.
Like, to have two good horses like Azertyuiop and Well Chief under control at all stages, it just shows how hood a horse he was. Every jockey needs a big horse and Moscow Flyer was probably the horse which helped put Barry Geraghty on the map.
Barry had many great days on him and I’d say Jessie absolutely loved him. He went on a streak of 25 races where he either won or hit the deck and that’s an incredible record. I was a benefactor on a couple of the times when he didn’t get around but a lot of the other times, I finished behind him.
He just had an amazing engine and he was a horse who delivered at Cheltenham when it really counted. He was a horse than anybody, not just me, would have given their left arm to ride.
He won three Stayers’ Hurdles with three different jockeys.
He was trained by Howard Johnson and he was such a little warrior. He was just so tough. He was a real hurdler too as he was quick and low at his hurdles. He wasn’t the fastest of horses but what he lacked in pace, he made up for in determination.
He beat Baracouda in his first Stayers’ win with Graham Lee on board and then he won the following two years with Paddy Brennan and Denis O’Regan on board. All top Stayers’ Hurdles horses seem to run the same. They race behind the bridle. Baracouda, Big Buck’s, Inglis Drever. They all had the same sort of racing style but they were all very good horses, who have lots of stamina.
They are the horses you dream about. It was always great for me going to Cheltenham having an ace like Big Buck’s and for Inglis Drever, it was the very same. That’s why I would have loved to have ridden him.
BARACOUDA – He was another great French-trained horse and Francois Douman trained him with his son Thierry riding him for most of his career.
AP McCoy ended up on him in the end. He was an incredible stayer and I watched him plenty of times and rode against him too. He used to win races like the Long Walk Hurdle at the old Ascot and the Long Distance Hurdle in Newbury. I even rode against him one day in Windsor. And he won two Stayers’ Hurdles too at Cheltenham.
He was an incredible jumper of a hurdle and he’d great stamina. He looked a lovely ride as he was always kind of behind the bridle and the further he went, the better he was going. He used to have some great buckles with Deanos Beano and Iris’s Gift and he had that great race with Bannow Bay in the 2002 Stayers’ Hurdle. Lots of horses took him on but most times, Baracouda came out on top.
He was a high class horse and I’m sure he was a pleasure to ride and that’s why I would have loved to have a go on him.
He was running around the start of my career but I remember sitting in the weigh-room in Leopardstown the day he won the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup and you could feel the vibration coming down through the stand as the people jumped up and down and roared him home.
The reception he got that day was incredible. He was trained by Tom Foley and owned by Dan O’Neill and they were small time in racing. He was a horse who caught people’s imagination.
The year he went to Cheltenham first, in 1994, there was only ever one Irish banker back then and he was it that year. Charlie Swan rode him that day and that was an amazing day when he won the Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle. He was just one of those horses that people thronged to go and see. Everybody loved him. I’ll just never forget that day in Leopardstown. It was magnificent. Tommy Treacy rode him and the jumps he threw that day to win were incredible.
I rode against him in his very last race at Punchestown but when I was an amateur, he was the star horse that you’d love to have been on. When you look back at what he done, he was an incredible racehorse and I would just have loved to be on his back at Leopardstown in 1997 for the reception he got that day.
For me, the Grand Steeple-Chase De Paris (French Gold Cup) was the biggest race I never got the chance to win.
It’s run in Auteuil in Paris and while it wouldn’t be high up on Irish or English people’s lists, to me it was always a great race and a very hard race to win. It’s over 3m4f in Auteuil in the heat with such a variation of jumps and the best winner of that race was Mid Dancer, who won the race three times.
He was owned by Sean Mulryan and won it as a six-year-old and then came back to win it as a ten-year-old and an 11-year-old. The Grand Steeple-Chase De Paris is a proper Grade 1 race, it’s not a handicap, where you need a very good horse to win it.
The first year he won the race, he won by 15 lengths and it was a distance back to the third-placed horse and you often get that in French Gold Cups because one horse keeps going so much better than the others.
In his second win, he beat a horse called Rubi Ball, who was the next big thing in France at the time and Mid Dancer beat him well that year. Rubi Ball ended up coming to Willie’s after that. And then Mid Dancer won his third French Gold Cup in 2012. He wasn’t a very big horse, he just had bags of stamina.
To win three French Gold Cups, you need an incredible horse to do that. So, on that basis, if I could have ridden him, I’d have been fairly happy.