The decision by Ruby Walsh to end his relationship with Paul Nicholls in the UK makes sense, but it is a costly one.
Even a few years ago, this news would have been unthinkable. Paul Nicholls had the best yard in the UK with stars like Kauto Star and Big Bucks arguably the biggest names in National Hunt racing. Riding those horses was Irish man Ruby Walsh, acknowledged to be the very finest of riders in the game.
Now, as we enter the nearest the National Hunt calendar gets to a closed season, Walsh has ended the relationship. In an interview published in the Irish Examiner and on his blog on the Paddy Power website, Walsh explains his reasoning.
“This wasn’t an easy decision,” Ruby is quoted as saying. “I spoke to Paul after Punchestown in April and told him I had a decision to make. I started as Paul’s stable jockey in October 2002, but when I chose then to live in Ireland, this was always going to be a job that involved an awful lot of travelling.”
Walsh goes on to explain the many, many hours he spends travelling over and back from Ireland to races in the UK led to him barely seeing his family and a renewed focus on the Irish game, and the yard of Willie Mullins, seems to be the plan.
But by leaving his post as No 1 jockey, Walsh is turning his back on a lot of prize money. Over the last 12 years, on Paul Nicholls-trained Grade 1 winners alone the prize money has been £6.7m. Divide that by the standard 10 per cent jockey fee and on those races alone Walsh has scooped in the region of £700,000.
That’s not to say he isn’t worth every penny (he clearly is) or that the work he does isn’t incredibly dangerous but it is a big adjustment to make.
Once you take the travel and other expenses out of it, it won’t look as bad as the bald figures seem but it is rare in the modern world to see a sports man, at his peak (Walsh is just 34) turn away from a lucrative income source and put his family first.
We’ll still see Walsh aboard some Nicholls horses, at the biggest of race days, but we’ll also see a lot more of him around Irish tracks, which is great news for Irish racegoers.