Donn's Articles » Mark Walsh

Mark Walsh

The Galway Plate and Mark Walsh go way back.

It was in 2005 that the jockey made his debut in the race, a 3lb-claiming, 19-year-old whipper-snapper, on Light On The Broom. He got a great spin, tipped away out the back, made ground down the far side and suddenly found himself in front on the approach to the second last fence. The Gerry Stack-trained gelding faded up the hill to finish third behind Ansar – nothing was going to beat Ansar that day – but the rider came home with a smile on his face.

Walsh had to wait until 2009 before he got to ride in the race again. Knock On The Head didn’t travel as well as Light On The Broom had four years earlier, but he stayed on well to finish a remote second behind Ballyholland. The young rider was getting closer.

In a sense, he got closer still the following year. With AP McCoy set to ride Dancing Tornado for JP McManus in the race, Walsh was booked to ride the owner’s other horse in the race, Finger Onthe Pulse. (And no, a horse didn’t have to be named Something On The Something for Walsh to consider riding him in the Galway Plate.) The jockey was in the car on his was to the races when the phone call came: Dancing Tornado was injured, McCoy was going to ride Finger Onthe Pulse, Walsh would have to watch the race from the weigh room.

He did. He watched as McCoy led on Finger Onthe Pulse, he watched the champion jockey stack the field up behind him, and he watched the pair of them rally up the hill to beat Themoonandsixpence by a half a length.

Cue mixed emotions – delight for JP McManus and trainer Tom Taaffe and AP McCoy, mixed with self-absorption. What might have been. It’s human nature.

Last year, Walsh thought he had the race won when he sent Wise Old Owl to the front on landing over the final fence. But it is a long old pull from the back of the last around the home turn and up to Galway’s winning line, and it was just too long for Wise Old Owl. Collared by Paul Townend and Blazing Tempo with 50 yards to run, Walsh resolved that he would never make that mistake again.

In the 2012 Tote Galway Plate on Wednesday, with Bob Lingo to help him, Walsh got it right.

“I was delighted to be riding Bob Lingo in the race this year,” he says. “I knew last week that AP was going to be riding Wise Old Owl, but I knew that Bob Lingo was in great form. He ran a cracker in a maiden on the flat at Killarney a couple of weeks ago, when it took Fran Berry nearly a circuit to pull him up afterwards. I sat on him on the Friday, Tom (Mullins) took him up to The Curragh, we had a spin up the Old Vic gallop and he felt great.”

The race went like clockwork for Walsh. By the time they had jumped the third fence, Bob Lingo had settled into a lovely rhythm, just behind the front rank. It isn’t that long ago that the Bob’s Return gelding had to lead in his races, that he wouldn’t settle if there were horses in front of him. Not now though. As a 10-year-old with 31 races on his cv, he is getting more sensible, more relaxed in his races.

Barry Geraghty and Out Now were up on Bob Lingo’s outside, and that horse was jumping a little to his left, with the result that Walsh had lots of room at his fences inside him. And Bob Lingo never missed a beat, he crossed every fence with a metronome’s rhythm, and arrived there in third place as they approached the second last.

“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about last year,” laughs the rider. “I didn’t want to hit the front too soon again. So I just sat still over the second last and the last. I knew I had the front two covered, but I didn’t want to send him until the point where the rail breaks away and we were on the home turn. When we got there, I went for him, and he picked up really well.”

Walsh didn’t notice the roar from the stands as he set off up the run-in. He just concentrated on keeping his horse balanced and driving him up the hill. He did allow himself a peak at the big screen 50 yards from the line, however, and when he did, he saw Paul Townend a safe distance behind him on Casey Top: the same Paul Townend who had ridden Blazing Tempo to beat Walsh in last year’s Plate.

“I had a good laugh with Paul afterwards about that all right,” says Walsh. “But Paul was great, he was delighted for me, as were all the lads in the weigh room. It was a great training performance by Tom Mullins to get Bob Lingo there in such good form. I was delighted for JP McManus as well, I was delighted to be able to ride a Galway Plate winner for him. He has been so good to me. He’s a great man to ride for.”

It was through Chrisy Roche that Walsh’s association with McManus began. From Clane in Co Kildare, the horse-mad youngster mixed school with riding out with local trainer Peter McCreery until he was old enough to do his Junior Cert and join Christy Roche full-time.

“I owe Christy Roche an awful lot,” says the jockey. “He was training a lot of JP’s horses, and he had no problem putting me up, even though I was just a young fellow. If it wasn’t for Christy, I’m sure I wouldn’t be getting the opportunities that I am now getting on JP’s horses.”

Getting the opportunities is just the see, taking them is the saw. If Wise Old Owl last year was a learning experience, it was one that wasn’t lost on Mark Walsh. One year older, one year wiser, this year’s prize was there for him on a Plate.

© The Sunday Times, 5th August 2012