Things We Learned » Walsh call

Walsh call

It may not have been an easy decision for Barry Geraghty: Vaniteux in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham or Jezki in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown tomorrow.

The Greatwood Hurdle is worth £57,000 to the winner and Vaniteux is a 4/1 shot for it (expected value £11,400), the Morgiana Hurdle is worth €48,000 to the winner and Jezki is a 10/11 shot for it (expected value €25,143, or about £20,114). But it’s not all about pounds and pence or euro and cent. No matter than Geraghty is five for five on Jezki, nor that he won a Champion Hurdle on him, because Vaniteux is trained by Nicky Henderson, and Barry Geraghty rides for Nicky Henderson.

In Geraghty’s absence, it had to have been a close call between Robbie Power and Mark Walsh for Jezki’s connections. Power won the Future Champions Novice Hurdle on Jezki in 2012, but Walsh rides most of the JP McManus horses in Ireland when AP McCoy is not over here so, despite the fact that he has never ridden Jezki in a race before, it is not surprising that he has been asked to step in.

Walsh is a highly accomplished rider who just continues to improve. Compare his ride, for example, on Wise Old Owl in the 2011 Galway Plate with his ride on Bob Lingo in the 2012 Galway Plate. In 2011, he kicked away from the final fence on Wise Old Owl and got caught by Blazing Tempo inside the final 100 yards.

In 2012, he sat still on Bob Lingo as they started around the home turn, made his progress between Cross Appeal and Casey Top on the run around the bend, and he didn’t actually hit the front until he entered the final furlong. There’s no point in getting older if you’re not going to get wiser. (Note: Owl pun unintended.)

Since the 2006/07 season, when he rode four winners, Walsh has either improved on or equalled the previous season’s total every year. 4, 8, 19, 21, 21, 31, 32 and 39. Those figures represent his total number of winners for each of the last eight seasons, including last season. This season, already he has bettered last seasons total with 46 winners, and he is leading the jockeys’ championship, five clear of Paul Townend.

Walsh has ridden seven winners in November already. On Little King Robin at Down Royal two weeks ago, he got the fractions spot on from the front. On Gilgamboa at Navan last Sunday, he got his horse into a lovely rhythm in behind, and produced him at the final fence to win nicely. You can be sure that the horse enjoyed his experience, his first steeplechase. His rider is an asset to any horse.

Door wide open

There is no telling how high Shutthefrontdoor could go this season. Last year’s Irish National winner off a mark of 142, natural inclination is to think that he could be an Aintree horse this year, but he could even be a little better than that.

JP McManus’ horse was impressive in winning an intermediate chase at Carlisle on Monday under Barry Geraghty, staying on well over the last two fences to come away from the useful Vintage Star, and it is interesting that trainer Jonjo O’Neill said on Tuesday that the Lexus Chase was next on his agenda. Remember, that is the race that the JP McManus/Jonjo O’Neill horse Synchronised – a staying handicap chaser up to that point, favourite for the Welsh National at the time – won in 2011 under AP McCoy before he went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following March.

Of course, Shutthefrontdoor is going to have to progress significantly if he is to be a Gold Cup contender, but he has always been highly regarded – he won his three bumpers and three of his five races over hurdles – and he is just a seven-year-old who has run in just six chases to date. He could progress significantly through the season.


The transfer of jockeys in Britain is not a new phenomenon, just as the transfer of footballers in Britain is not a new phenomenon. But footballers change clubs as often these days as you change your socks, when they used to change clubs as often as, well, as often as you used to change your socks. Jockeys are not quite as promiscuous, admittedly, but the trend is along similar lines.

It used to be the case that, when a footballer moved clubs, it was big news. When you filled your Division One sticker album with players, all wearing the same coloured jerseys, it was unusual if one of them needed to move to a new page the following season, and they never moved in January. Same when a jockey moved stables. When Joe Mercer left Dick Hern for Henry Cecil, when Pat Eddery left Peter Walwyn to join Vincent O’Brien, it was headline news.

Not so these days. When Frankie Dettori hung up his blue silks for the last time, you knew that nothing was sacred.

The recent changes have been manifold. Frankie from Godolphin via freelance to Shiekh Joaan’s Al Shaqab Racing, Andrea Atzeni from Roger Varian (and Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum) to Qatar Racing, Oisin Murphy from Andrew Balding to Qatar Racing Number Two. Jamie Spencer to Director of Racing. (Surely Spencer is too talented and too young a rider to not reconsider.)

Now Godolphin have stepped in and snapped up James Doyle and William Buick. You wonder how easy it was for the two riders to move from Prince Khalid Abdullah and John Gosden respectively.

Of course, Kingman and Noble Mission have been retired, that obviously made the decision easier for Doyle, and Prince Khalid just may not have the depth of talent that Godolphin will have in the future, the new all-singing all-dancing Frankel juveniles notwithstanding.

Buick rode 125 winners last season, 56 of them were for John Gosden, but 28 of them were for the Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby. Also, Gosden’s top two horses from last season, Taghrooda and Kingman, were off limits to Buick anyway, ridden as they were, by their owners’ riders, Paul Hanagan and James Doyle respectively, and The Fugue has been retired.

As well as that, the Princess Haya horses will now apparently come under the Godolphin banner, so presumably they will be the Godolphin jockeys’ rides next season, not the Gosden jockey’s, whoever that may be. All 101 of Princess Haya’s runners and all of her 11 winners in Britain last season were trained by Gosden.

Of course, Gosden still has exciting horses for next season, headed by King Edward VII Stakes winner Eagle Top, but so does Charlie Appleby.

It’s all change though. We have to get used to a whole new set of players playing for a whole new set of different teams.

Flat season

So what were your highlights? Adelaide in Australia? (Well, where else would Adelaide be?) Gordon Lord Byron in Australia? Australia at Epsom? Sole Power at Royal Ascot? Slade Power at Royal Ascot? Irish Champions Weekend? Free Eagle? Fiesolana?

It was a rich one all right.

Dagen H

Sweden did it in 1967, Iceland did it in 1968, so why not Wexford in 2015?

© The Irish Field, 15th November 2014