David Moriarty (DM): Tell us your first memories of attending Cheltenham.
Ted Walsh (TW): The late Tom Dreaper asked me to ride a horse called Drop It in the Kim Muir. The day he asked me I thought I had died and gone to heaven, I had only ever watched Cheltenham on the television. I couldn’t wait to get there. It was everything and more I thought it would be – a magical place! Every year I’ve gone back since it has been the same. I rode winners there and as a trainer I was lucky enough to have horses good enough to run there and win as well.
DM: You rode four Cheltenham Festival winners. What are your memories of those days?
TW: I was lucky enough to ride four winners, at the time I thought I wasn’t doing too bad but by present day standards Ruby could ride that amount in a day. I won the Champion Chase on Hilly Way which was a big occasion, then a couple of Kim Muirs and a Foxhunters. I never got to ride in the Gold Cup. In that era amateurs didn’t really ride in it until Jim Wilson broke that glass ceiling in 1981 on Little Owl.
DM: What was the worst day you had as a rider at Cheltenham?
TW: Daring Run in the Champion Hurdle. I was travelling well up the hill but he stumbled and I fell off him. That was a stinking day walking back up the hill. This was after being second the previous year, and third the year before that. It was a bad day. But the day John Thomas McNamara got injured, that was the worst day I’ve had at any race meeting. Cheltenham went silent. We knew he was on death’s door and then he had 12 months of torture before passing away. It puts everything into perspective.
DM: Training Commanche Court to win the Triumph Hurdle must have been one of your all-time great days?
TW: It was a great day. A day you could never forget. To have a Festival winner is every trainer’s dream. But for most that is what it remains, a dream. Commanche Court was so versatile. He won that, an Irish National, and a Punchestown Gold Cup.
DM: You have often said the Gold Cup is the one race you really want to win. How hard was it to stand in the runner-up spot with Commanche Court in 2002?
TW: It wasn’t, he was second at 20/1 in the Gold Cup and just wasn’t good enough on the day. The only thing was I came away from it thinking that’s my window of opportunity gone to win a Gold Cup. I thought I had two Gold Cup horses at the same time. Rince Ri was the other. The one time he got to run in it he was unlucky not to be in the mix at the line. The following two years he missed it because of colic and a stink leg.
DM: Ruby and Katie have both given yourself and Helen some thrills and spills at Cheltenham. Which of their wins was the most enjoyable and why?
TW: Katie winning the National Hunt Chase was a huge thing for me. I didn’t ever think she might ride a winner in Cheltenham, and the National Hunt Chase is the race that every amateur would like to win at Cheltenham. I remember thinking it doesn’t matter now if she never rides another winner at Cheltenham. With the exception of the top fellas, most are lucky to ride a winner or two at the festival. It was very important and it was magic.
I got a great kick out of Ruby riding his first ever winner and I didn’t know what was to come. All his big wins were great, but him riding Kauto Star’s first Gold Cup was special. The English National and the Gold Cup are the two races that trainers, jockeys, and owners dream and hope of winning. Winning one is like winning a medal in the Olympics. As a kid you dream of winning the Gold Cup, I don’t know if you dream of winning the Champion Hurdle or Champion Chase.
DM: You were part of the Channel 4 and RTÉ teams at Cheltenham. Was that always an enjoyable experience?
TW: I always enjoyed it. I had good company with Jim McGrath and Johnny Francome. I admired Johnny as a jockey, he is a very witty fella. It was great time and Ruby was having a beano of a run with Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins.
DM: What will the Walsh family routine be next week?
TW: Cheltenham, we never miss a year, always stay in the same place. Magic!
DM: Would Ruby often talk to you about his rides for the week or discuss tactics in a certain race?
We talk every day, general chit-chat, whether its face to face or on the phone. Me and Katie are always here in the yard. I might ring him if there’s a problem. He could have had a similar situation with Willie for example and that sorted it. He sometimes rings if a horse works or runs badly. In particular if Ruby got beaten he might ring me and ask what could be done differently. He never takes it personally, like maybe he was a little loose or didn’t switch his stick quick enough. You could say anything to him and he’d take it on board constructively.
I have great admiration for him but I have even more admiration for his mind. How he’s able to face all the different things that can go wrong and put them aside and work to the high standards he has attained for such a long time. It’s a highly pressurised job. When a jockey goes out in a race it’s just him and the horse, he’s basically on his own.
He has an especially good relationship with Willie Mullins. He started there as an amateur and rode his first winner at Cheltenham for him. He still talks and has a good relationship with Paul Nicholls. He rode for him for seven or eight years.
DM: Let’s talk about some of the big one’s next week. In the Champion Hurdle, we all expect Apple’s Jade to make the running and Buveur D’Air to stalk from behind. At what stage do you think Ruby will play his hand on Laurina?
TW: Apple’s Jade will be handy all the way, you wouldn’t know what tactics the others will take. They might not to give her a freebie and go with her. We saw at Fairyhouse when Patrick Mullins went with her on Wicklow Brave and was burnt off. If something goes too fast I don’t think Jack will take her out of her comfort zone. One thing she’s not short of is stamina, she’s not free in front but can come from behind. Davy Russell brought her from behind to beat Supasundae at Leopardstown last year. She was second in the Triumph but Cheltenham hasn’t been her A1 course, but she’s never been as good as she is now.
Buveur D’Air is a good horse, a very good horse, a great lepper but I don’t think he is an Istabraq. He might not have to be, but giving her 7lbs is a fair task. If Laurina jumps as quickly as you’d like a Champion Hurdle horse to jump she has a huge chance. Having said that if she jumped as moderately as she did last year in the mares’ novice race she’ll be at a disadvantage. She won’t want to be giving them lengths down the back. You want everything to fall in to place in a Champion Hurdle. She is up against it, the other two are great jumpers.
DM: Are you a Presenting Percy fan? As a trainer, what do you think of Pat Kelly’s placing of the horse this season?
TW: Presenting Percy is the best horse in the race. He has everything you’d want in a horse. He stays well, handles the track well and jumps well. He has all the right things except the prep. I’m sure it wasn’t what Pat Kelly had planned. Only having the one run wasn’t by design.
DM: It’s hard to see Altior getting beaten or can you see a chink in his armour?
TW: Altior looks a hell of a horse, to say he is one of the greatest horses of all time is a bit tall. He might be one of the best two-mile chasers but that’s all he’s competed in. I think he’ll win again, he’s a great lepper and handles Cheltenham. I’d say he’s nailed on now unless something unforeseen happens.
DM: It has been an extraordinary season – no soft ground, lots of horses not running, viruses. Do you think we’ll see more shocks than usual at the Festival this year?
TW: Everyone has been at the same disadvantage with the ground. No one’s been held up any more than anyone else. Presenting Percy has only had the one run and Willie didn’t get to run Al Boum Photo at Leopardstown. The only shock is if Altior or Sir Eric gets beat. It will be a shock if Apple’s Jade, Paisley Park, or Tiger Roll are not in the first three. The novice races and bumpers look open. In the four-miler Ballyward has a big chance.