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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Walsh defied perceptions of female jockeys' limitations to leave lasting legacy

Katie Walsh after announcing her retirement is congratulated by her fellow jockeys at Punchestown - Alain Barr - 27.04.2018
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Many superb female jump jockeys went before her, but Katie Walsh leaves behind a legacy of lasting significance.

It's not overstating it to suggest that, if it weren't for her exploits, along with those of Nina Carberry as the they rose to prominence simultaneously, riders of the calibre of Bryony Frost, Rachael Blackmore and Lisa O'Neill would not be gracing the big days with such regularity.

The likes of Ann Ferris, Caroline Hutchinson and Gee Armytage were true pioneers of the jumps pursuit, but Walsh and Carberry took things to another level.

They transformed dated perceptions of lady riders' limitations, their exploits on the grandest of stages prompting everyone to recognise them as equals in terms of ability and temperament. Their capacity to prevail was gloriously unlimited.

Sure, Walsh needed to be given the opportunities to do that, and the fact that she was born into a family with such a rich racing pedigree certainly opened doors for her.

Nonetheless, it was the manner in which she seized those opportunities that served to break down barriers, and she wouldn't have deployed as Willie Mullins' first choice amateur jockey if her talent didn't demand it.

It was the champion trainer who first entrusted her with fancied mounts on the big days, Glencove Marina's Land Rover Bumper success in 2006 their first high-profile triumph together.

Thereafter, Walsh's enduring association with the endearing grey Thousand Stars captured the public imagination and helped to showcase the extent of her talents.

Together they won a County Hurdle and a Prix La Barka together, and Walsh very nearly became the first woman to ride a Grade 1 winner over jumps when they were narrowly denied in an epic edition of the Aintree Hurdle in 2011.

Patrick Mullins's emergence understandably reduced Walsh's bookings for Mullins, but by then she was recognised as an amateur rider of real quality.

Indeed, she would have more than held her own in the paid ranks, but preferred to reap the benefits of being able to go to the major meetings with a select book rather than subject herself to the daily grind of competing with the likes of her brother Ruby for rides.

There is ample evidence to suggest that was an inspired move.

In 2015, she joined Ferris and Carberry as the only women to win an Irish Grand National when excelling aboard Sandra Hughes's Thunder And Roses, having a year earlier become the first of her gender to land the Kerry version aboard the James Nash-trained Your Busy.

She ended up with three Cheltenham Festival winners, her brilliantly executed last-to-first Champion Bumper coup on Relegate last month her second Grade 1 bumper success for Mullins.

Cool-headed when expectations were greatest and defiant and tenacious when she needed to be in the finish, we were treated to a pretty comprehensive illustration of Walsh the person that day, same as we were after her heroic nose farewell victory on Antey.

Her subsequent emotional Racing UK interview at Cheltenham, when she fought back tears as she talked about Ruby following his earlier leg-breaking fall, revealed the human frailties that natural-born competitors possess the same as the rest of us but are loathe to divulge.

Refreshingly, Walsh has always worn her heart on her sleeve, and that candid demeanour was also to the fore the day she lit up Aintree by guiding her father Ted's Seabass into third in the 2012 Grand National.

No defeat should define someone so synonymous with winning, but Walsh's performance on that memorable occasion, when it felt like the world was watching and willing her to prevail, epitomised much of what she brought to the table.

Walsh didn't just not look out of place against the sport's most accomplished competitors, she looked like she belonged. That's why her presence in the saddle will be so greatly missed.

She has been a credit to herself, her family and her profession and it has been our privilege to watch her shine. 

Read Katie Walsh's pre Grand National interview here


KATIE WALSH CV

Born December 18, 1984

Family Parents: Ted and Helen Walsh. Siblings: Jennifer, Ruby, Ted jr (husband of Nina Carberry). Husband: trainer Ross O'Sullivan

First winner Hannon (trainer Ted Walsh) on Flat, Gowran Park, October 10, 2003

First NH winner Barrow Walk, bumper, Tramore, October 14, 2004

First winner over jumps Never Compromise, hunter chase, Thurles, January 27, 2005

First big-race winner Glencove Marina (2006 Goffs Land Rover Bumper, Punchestown)

Irish Grand National winner Thunder And Roses (2015)

Cheltenham Festival winners Poker De Sivola (2010 National Hunt Chase), Thousand Stars (2010 County Hurdle), Relegate (2018 Champion Bumper)

Grade 1 winners Blow By Blow (2016 Champion INH Flat Race, Punchestown), Relegate (2018 Champion Bumper, Cheltenham)

Grade 2 winners Thousand Stars (2014 Prix La Barka), Relegate (2018 Mares INH Flat Race, Leopardstown)

Other big-race winners Dorset Square (2010 Thetote.com Handicap Hurdle), Seabass (2012 Leopardstown Chase), Your Busy (2014 Kerry National), Baie Des Iles (2017 Grand National Trial)

Placed mount in Grand National Seabass (third in 2012)

Total rides in Grand National Six (completed course five times)

Most wins in an Irish season 19 (2005-06)

Total wins in Ireland 179 (158 NH, 21 Flat)

Total wins in Britain Eight (six NH, two Flat)

Last winner/last ride Antey, Punchestown, April 27, 2018

Compiled by John Randall

Refreshingly, Walsh has always worn her heart on her sleeve, and that candid demeanour was also to the fore the day she lit up Aintree

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