Things We Learned » Judgement of pace

Judgement of pace

When Ruby Walsh started race riding, he used to count as he passed one furlong marker and moved on to the next.  One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand.  Even then, at 16, he knew how important pace was.  And his concentration on pace never diminished.

His supreme judgement of pace, honed and refined with experience, was just one of the things that set Ruby Walsh apart as a rider of racehorses. 

He had all the physical traits of course, balance, strength, fluency over an obstacle, and he had a rare understanding of the racehorses, the nuances of the racecourses, the relative strengths and weaknesses of the competition, that made him so difficult to beat. 

A winner.

But he also had all the psychological attributes: intelligence, clarity of thought, a will to win, tactical nous, confidence, horse-sense, a connection with the horse, trust in the animal beneath.  And he had the resilience, the hunger, the drive, the focus, which determined that he would come back after injury as good as ever, all of which fused together to create an outstanding race-rider.  An extraordinary sportsman.

It was interesting that his dad Ted said last week that his greatest asset was his mind. 

We know all the horses, all the rides, by now.  They have been well documented in the last 10 days.  And we know that we will miss him as a rider.  We will miss seeing his familiar crouch.  The realisation will gradually sink in that we were privileged to be able to watch him ride.  To witness at first hand his artistry in the saddle.  One of the greatest exponents of his craft that there has ever been.

Now that it is over, we can appreciate the entirety of his remarkable career, and we can rest in the knowledge that he ended it when he wanted to end it, on his own terms, on his home ground, with his family around him, in the winner’s enclosure after one of the most important races on the National Hunt calendar, and on a high after one last victorious masterclass ride. 

Smullen an inspiration

We will also miss seeing Pat Smullen ride.  We haven’t seen him ride for a while, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t miss seeing him in the saddle.

He was the professional’s professional.  You rarely saw him in the wrong place in a race.  He wasn’t one of those riders who loved to come from the back and drop a horse’s nose on the line, get up and win by a head.  He always rode for maximum efficiency.  It was always about the horse, not the rider.  Maximise your horse’s chance of winning.

And we remember the horses.  Tarascon in the Moyglare Stud Stakes in 1997.  That was the first Group 1.  He was 20.  Vinnie Roe in the Irish St Leger in 2001.  Vinnie Roe again in the Irish St Leger in 2002 and in 2003 and in 2004.  Refuse To Bend in the 2000 Guineas.  Rite Of Passage, and that duel with Johnny Murtagh on Age Of Aquarius in the Ascot Gold Cup that lasted the length of Ascot’s home straight, two Irish horses and two Irish riders going toe to toe and clear of their field.

Harzand in the Derby.

We remember the ride that he gave Free Eagle to win the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2015, when he dictated a sedate pace from second place.  And the ride that he gave Grey Swallow to win the Irish Derby in 2004, when he rode Dermot Weld’s horse for pace, untested beyond a mile, to quicken up and beat the Epsom Derby winner North Light. 

He was champion jockey in Ireland nine times.  At the start of each season, we expected that Pat Smullen would be champion at the end of it.

He rode big winners in Ireland and in Britain and in France and in America and in Dubai.  His relationship with Dermot Weld endured, but he was also in demand abroad. He rode big winners for Sir Michael Stoute and William Muir and Hugo Palmer and Mick Channon and Roger Charlton. 

Not only was he a top class rider though, he has also always been a top class person.  He was always generous with his time when he was riding and, in the last 12 months, he has become an inspiration for many.  Not just in Ireland, but internationally.  The candour and the positivity with which he has fought his latest fight has been incredible. 

And he is winning.  He is miles clear.  We expected that too. 

Derby picture turned inside out

The Derby picture was turned inside out on Wednesday when the Aidan O’Brien-trained Sir Dragonet – largely theretofore unconsidered in Derby-talk circles – sauntered to victory in the Chester Vase. 

Donnacha O’Brien gave the colt a really nice patient ride, and his interview afterwards was insightful.  The rider said that Sir Dragonet was still quite raw and green and that, therefore, he was happy to leave him follow the field along for the first few furlongs.  Interestingly, he said that he could tell three or four furlongs out that he was going to win.  That it was just a case of not getting there too early.  He also said that the Camelot colt never shows a lot at home, that some of these well-bred horses just learn to go to sleep at home, only do what they have to.  That he saves it for the track.  

It all stacks up.  Sir Dragonet was a 14/1 shot when he made his winning debut at Tipperary, in a race in which his stable companion King Pellinor was sent off a warm favourite.  That is just two and a half weeks ago.  He wasn’t even entered in the Derby, and he was a bigger price than his stable companion Norway for Wednesday’s race.  He has surprised his connections, but he is an exciting individual, and you can understand why he is Derby favourite now.

Oaks picture taking shape

The Oaks picture had a few more pieces added to it this week. 

Hermosa was game in winning the Qipco 1000 Guineas on her seasonal debut on Saturday, and there is every chance that Aidan O’Brien’s filly will get a mile and a half.  And 70 minutes later, the William Haggas-trained filly Maqsad ran out a seriously impressive winner of the Pretty Polly Stakes, a race that her owner Sheikh Hamdan’s Taghrooda won in 2014 before going to Epsom and winning the Oaks. 

Then at Chester on Wednesday, Medaayih looked really good in winning the Cheshire Oaks.  John Gosden’s filly wasn’t drawn well in stall six, and she was squeezed out of it a bit at the start, with the result that she was further back in the field than ideal early on.  Moved towards the outside by Rab Havlin as they started around the home turn, the turn of foot that she showed to come clear of her rivals in the home straight was taking.  

There is precedent.  Light Shift won the Cheshire Oaks in 2007 before beating Peeping Fawn in the Oaks three weeks later, and Enable won the Cheshire Oaks in 2017 before going on to win the Oaks and just about everything else.

The Frankel fill does not hold an Oaks entry at present, but, as with Sir Dragonet in the Derby, it will be surprising if the Emirates Park people who own her do not come up with the supplementary entry fee to put her into the race.

Thought for the week

There was only one filly in the 1000 Guineas who was by Galileo, or whose dam was by Galileo: Hermosa. 

And there was only one colt in the 2000 Guineas who was by Galileo, or whose dam was by Galileo: Magna Grecia.

© The Irish Field, 11th May 2019