Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Walsh And Nicholls Call Time

When two of arguably the greatest names in National Hunt Racing get together you know that success is undoubtedly on the cards. Such was the case of Irish jockey Ruby Walsh and Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls who in October 2002 formed one of the most successful partnerships in recent racing history.

In the eleven years that followed, together they achieved unparalleled success enjoying multiple victories in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the World Hurdle, and the King George VI Chase as well as two triumphs with Kauto Star in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Walsh enviably also partnered magnificent horses including Denman, Master Minded, Big Bucks, Silvianco Conti and Al Ferof to name just a few.

But, it seems, that all good things must come to an end and with his decision to live in Ireland, the vast amount of travelling required for the job of Ditcheat’s stable jockey took it’s toll on Walsh who announced recently that his days as stable jockey to Nicholls had come to an end.

Writing as a columnist for the Irish Examiner, Walsh cited many reasons for his departure not least of which was that his family life was clearly suffering and likened the situation to ships passing in the night.

With a wife, two young children and an over whelming schedule Walsh admitted that getting up at 4.50am, out the door at 5 to be in Dublin Airport at 5.45am for a 6.30am flight and not getting home until 8.15 or 8.30pm that evening meant that by the time the week’s done, he may have only seen his children for a couple of hours.

Understandably it was not an easy decision to make and walking away from a position that enables you to ride in and win the biggest races in the industry as well earn you a very decent living, was always going to be difficult particularly when you love it. But at 34 years of age, Walsh has decided that his family will come first and looks forward to sitting down for breakfast rather than grabbing a quick coffee while running out the door.

So what now for two of the most sought after figures in the world of horse racing? Walsh will strengthen his already existing partnership with Irish trainer Willie Mullins and concentrate on more racing in Ireland, while Nicholls must now take a serious look at his yard and decide which jockey will have the dubious task of filling such enormous shoes.

And Nicholls has his own issues to contend with, only one of which is the departure of Ruby Walsh. For the first time in eight years he lost out to competing trainer Nicky Henderson for the title of Champion Trainer in 2013 when he finished the year on total prize money of £2,924,917 versus Nicholls on £2,375,585.

That was hot on the heels of his very public split with race horse owner Clive Smith, a dramatic spat regarding the retirement of Kauto Star, that was played out in full view of the public via twitter and guest columns.

Shortly after that his long-time assistant, Dan Skelton, decided to start training in his own right and so he too left Ditcheat for greener gallops, leaving Paul Nicholls to no doubt ponder the roller coaster that has been his life for the last twelve months.

But all is not lost for the trainer who finally captured the elusive Grand National title in 2012 when jockey Daryl Jacob romped home on Neptune Collonges. Certainly with a stable yard full to the brim of horses such as Big Bucks, Silvianco Conti and Al Ferof it’s easy to see how a trainer of Nicholl’s quality has turned a small training yard with 28 loose boxes and an uphill woodchip gallop into one of the top establishments for Champion racehorses in the UK.

So from a young jockey and an up-and-coming trainer in 2002, to two of the most well known, successful and respected members of the racing community, they part as friends in 2013, and may even go head to head for the 2014 Grand National.

About the author: 

Paul Warrander is a leading contributor on some of the interest's best horse racing websites. Connect with him on Google Plus.

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