Walsh Ready To Write Chapter Two

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  • Katie Walsh | Steve Cargill/Tattersalls Ireland

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Long before the media clamour for Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly, there were two female members of the National Hunt weighing-room who earned enduring respect and admiration as riders, their actions in the saddle shouting so much louder than mere words.

Within 24 hours at the end of April, jump racing fans were denied the pleasure of seeing either of them on a competitive level again as first Katie Walsh retired after a winning ride aboard Antey (Ger) at the Punchestown Festival, followed by her sister-in-law and long-time ally Nina Carberry. Both hail from established Irish racing dynasties—the families intertwined by Carberry's marriage to Walsh's brother Ted—and have been inseparable in their spirit of nonchalant derring-do around Grand National and cross-country courses throughout the major jumping nations.

That chapter of their lives has simultaneously come to an end and while Carberry will be continuing her role as one of Aidan O'Brien's key work riders at Ballydoyle, Walsh will devote more of her considerable energy to the business that she has run in tandem with her race-riding commitments for the last eight years.

As a breeze-up consignor in the name of Greenhills Farm, Walsh left Newmarket's Guineas Sale last Friday to head to Deauville for the Arqana Breeze-up, where she is currently administering the finishing touches to a filly by Nathaniel (Ire) (lot 99) and a colt by Elusive City (Ire) (lot 110). Following Saturday's sale she will have six to offer at Goresbridge before she turns her mind to the selection of next year's draft.

There's no denying that breeze-up trade has been tough for many vendors this season, but Walsh enjoyed a decent result at Tattersalls in April when selling the top-priced filly at the Craven Sale. Bought privately by David and Henrietta Egan of Corduff Stud when returned to her vendor at $45,000 during Keeneland's September Sale, the daughter of More Than Ready thrived under Walsh's tutelage and duly sold for 500,000gns to Godolphin.

“The Craven was brilliant for David and Hen,” says Walsh. “She was the first horse I've ever prepped for them so it was a great start, but she was a pleasure to do.”

Walsh has had a team of 16 horses to sell this year, a small rise in numbers for her consignment as she has gradually started to take on horses for clients, as well as those she buys in partnership with her father, also called Ted.

“The first year I came I couldn't sell one horse and I remember sitting on a bucket outside the stable door thinking I'm clearly doing something wrong here. I was buying the wrong type of horse and I have one mare still at home that I ended up winning a couple of bumpers and hurdle races on,” says the 33-year-old.

“I suppose at the start I didn't do horses for anyone else as I wanted to get a grasp on it first and make sure I was doing a good enough job myself. This is the biggest bunch of horses we've had this year and I've had a few horses I'm doing for different people.”

Despite a less than auspicious start in her first season, the judgement of Walsh and her father was quickly vindicated in year two when Caspar Netscher (GB) (Dutch Art {GB}), bought from Meon Valley Stud as a yearling for 25,000gns and sold on for 65,000gns, went on to win the G2 Gimcrack S. and G2 Mill Reef S. in his first season for owner Charles Wentworth and trainer Alan McCabe. The colt also won the following year's G3 Greenham S. and G2 Mehl-Mulhens Rennen (German 2,000 Guineas) and, returned to training after fertility issues cut short his stud career, he collected the GII Nearctic S. at Woodbine as a 5-year-old.

“I bought three the next year and Caspar was one of them. He was my saving grace,” recalls Walsh, who still rides some of her horses in their breezes. “He had a lovely pedigree and it's very hard to buy those types of horses. He breezed well and Tom Malone bought him with Charles and Zorka [Wentworth]. Only a couple of weeks later I was in France at the breeze-ups and he won his maiden. We have him in retirement now at home and he's such a gent.”

Understandably after such a successful introduction, the Wentworths' association with Walsh has flourished and the couple has a number of horses in training in Ireland with Walsh's husband Ross O'Sullivan. These include Zorka Wentworth's Baie Des Iles (Fr), who gave Walsh her final ride in this year's Grand National, the race in which she achieved the highest placing of any female jockey when she finished third in 2012 aboard Seabass (Ire), trained by her father. Three years later she won the Irish Grand National on the Sandra Hughes-trained Thunder And Roses (Ire).

“I'm kind of involved everywhere really between dad and Ross and breezers and riding,” says Walsh, who is based in Kildare, not far from Goffs. “I was trying to give everything 110 per cent and something had to give. It had been on my mind to retire from race-riding for a while but I kind of didn't know what to do, or when or how was the best time to go. When Ross decided he was going to run the mare [Baie Des Iles] in the National I decided I'd definitely wait around for her. I'd always wanted to ride her in the National for Ross.”

There was no fairytale ending in the National but the previous month Walsh had ridden her third winner at the Cheltenham Festival aboard Relegate (Ire), the same day her brother, multiple champion jockey Ruby Walsh, suffered a season-ending fall which resulted in him re-breaking a leg which had only just healed in time for him to ride at Cheltenham. That her final Festival winner, and later final winner, should come for long-term supporter Willie Mullins, was special for Walsh.

“I wanted a bit of everything really because it would have been ideal to go out at Punchestown but I wanted to ride Relegate again on the Wednesday so even if I'd ridden a winner on the Tuesday I wouldn't have gone then. Then to get a spare [ride] for Willie in the hurdle race [on Antey] was brilliant. It was a great way to go, you couldn't have written it. And then for Nina to get her winner and retire the next day—if it was a film you'd think they'd gone too far.”

Retiring fit and well with a shining reputation is something every jump jockey must long for, but embarking on stage two of a career can be as much of a challenge. Walsh, however, is already firmly established in her role as breeze-up consignor, an occupation she shares with a number of former jump jockeys, including Norman Williamson, Mark Dwyer, Malcolm Bastard and Roger Marley.

“It's something that dad used to do with Willie Browne. They are very good pals and he did the breeze-ups for years,” she says. “I always remember breeze-up horses being at home, but they were different times and then we got more horses to train so we stopped doing the sales for a time.

“Dad is involved in everything with me and when I'm here [at the sales] he's at home running the ship. I probably have more time now to put more work into the yearling sales. There's a lot of walking to be done during those months and a lot of effort, but it's a really important time for us. Of course everyone is trying to make a few quid but if you do it you have to love it. It's been a tough year at the breeze-ups this year—a lot of lads and a lot of girls are getting scalded, the buyers just aren't there.”

She continues, “Denise O'Brien is a massive help to me. She's been doing the sales with me for a long time and I couldn't do it without her. There's a great team of people at the sales and I can't speak for everybody but I love seeing people get a touch, just like I like to see other people riding a winner, especially when they don't get so much of a chance.”

Despite having grown up in racing and having been a sales consignor for the best part of a decade, Walsh still feels she has plenty to learn.

She says, “It's true that with horses you learn something new every day and at the moment the book side of it is my downfall—the pedigrees. I suppose I'll have more time to work on that now. Some people are very good at the book. I like to try to buy an individual—who doesn't?—but it's trying to find a bit of value that's the hard part and also the most enjoyable part.

“Then when it comes to selling, making sure they are in the right sale is so important, it's like making sure you have your horses in the right race.”

With training and trading featuring prominently on her CV alongside her riding achievements, it seems likely that Walsh will continue to get things right more often than not.

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