Ruby Walsh is often referred to as one of, if not the best jump jockey currently riding. But, his style of race riding can also divide fans across the sport. At Leopardstown on Sunday there was another two examples of the infamous Ruby tumble at the final fence, bringing it into the limelight once more. Royal Caviar fell when looking the likely victor of the Grade One Novice Chase and Nichols Canyon was giving chase, albeit as a likely loser to Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion Hurdle before falling. It was quickly forgotten that Walsh had two winners on the card, perfectly emphasising how indifferently people view the man.
The simple reason Ruby falls as often as he does at the last is he asks his horse for everything. This can obviously go one of two ways… You can go from hero to zero in seconds. Un De Sceaux was close to tumbling at the last in the Tingle Creek, but it was this effort over the last that saw him come home in first fending off the persistent old favourite Sire De Grugy. His ride on Penhill at the Galway Festival last season was up there with the best of 2016 and it is this determination to nail the final obstacle that won him the race when it looked done and dusted.
If your horse is in with a shout coming into the last – as a winner or for a place – why wouldn’t you want your rider to ask for everything. It’s like Lewis Hamilton easing off at the final bend, to allow Nico Rosberg a crack at getting past. Ruby knows when a horse needs a big jump and he doesn’t push a horse that’s already out of contention. The most criticised aspect of any jockey is when they are deemed to not get the best out of their mount in the closing stages. Yet, Ruby is the master of this and is targeted as a result of the mishap that can occur. It touches on deeper issues, but what can the man do?
Around this time last year, Kevin Blake wrote an article on Walsh using very detailed figures in how he compares with other top jockeys. We’re talking AP McCoy, Dickie Johnson and Paul Carberry, not your average rider. Without just copying Kevin’s piece; in short he had a 30% higher rate of falling at the last when leading than all the other concerned riders. It is a staggering statistic that added fuel to the fire of Ruby’s ‘final fence curse’ and so on. But, when you look at it closely, only 47 ended in falling at the last out of 3370 rides over the period researched and not just when in the lead, this is if in fourth or even tailed off.
It’s hard to digest the figures and stats when referring to such menial numbers and percentages, and patterns can be over inflated because of this. Also, figures/percentages are ‘trendy’ in racing now and overused as a result. We know Ruby is one of the UKs’ best, any trainer would snap him up in seconds for a reason. Yes he rides a lot of the top class horses, but that’s not when he’s at his best – he should get the plaudits when snatching those victories over the final fence when the cause looks lost. Punters are often quick to jump on the anti-Ruby bandwagon and Annie Power at Cheltenham in 2015 sticks out as the most famous example of why this is so easily done. Ultimately it goes down to how easy it is to knock the best. Walsh consistently performs at the highest level. Everyone has the misfortune of falling, but in Ruby’s case the stakes are normally so high it can blur his other moments of brilliance in an instant. He gives his horse the best chance of winning, the best chance of placing and who doesn’t want that?