Ruby Walsh has taken a trip down memory lane and recalled his first ever ride in the English Grand National – a fairytale win aboard Papillon, who was trained by his dad Ted Walsh.
Speaking on the latest episode of Paddy Power’s From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, our resident jockey-turned-pundit – who went on to win the world’s greatest steeplechase for a second time aboard Hedgehunter in 2005 – cast his mind back to 2000 and a memorable afternoon at Aintree.
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I rode in the race 14 times, and I think I finished on 11 occasions. I pulled up Shotgun WIlly (2003), On His Own fell at Valentines (2013) and I fell off Ballycasey at the Canal Turn (2015), so not a bad record! I got back on Papillon (after falling in 2001) and he finished both times he ran.
I won on Papillon in 2000 at my first attempt at the race, but I had ridden in the Foxhunters’ Chase over the National fences before on Minister For Fun for Edward O’Grady as an amateur.
The year before I won, I remember sitting on a table in the press room in Wexford with Barry Geraghty, watching Paul Carberry win the 1999 National on Bobbyjo. We were both riding at Wexford on the same day and I remember the disbelief as we watched it… it had been 24 years since an Irish winner in the National.
I went home but Barry went to Dublin port to go to Liverpool, so he could come home with the lads on the boat for the craic! It was incredible.
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I had a broken leg in the build-up to Papillon’s win. I was out for most of the year but got back and rode him in a hurdle race at Leopardstown. He ran okay then but I had a pretty ordinary Cheltenham – I don’t even think that I weighed in, let alone placed on one!
I had been Irish National Hunt Champion jockey the year before but like anything, when you’re out of sight you’re out of mind.
The only ride I had at Aintree was Papillon in the Grand National. Not only was it my first ride in the race, but it was the only ride I had at the whole meeting.
I rocked out to ride him from the old weighing room, where Grandstand had been on the BBC all day in the background. Papillon had tumbled down from 33/1 to God-only-knows what price, having been put up by Pricewise that morning. He was backed off the boards.
There are certain things in your life you can remember blow-by-blow, and its not from watching videos. This is just one of those occasions that I can just remember.
I can remember going through the tape with Jason Titley on my inside and Paul Carberry was next to him going to the first fence. I can remember looking over at Peter Niven going to the fifth fence on the second circuit, as he arrived up on Hollybank Buck.
I can remember the loose horses coming back down the track towards us as we were crossing the Melling Road. David Casey was beside me on Lucky Town and we were wondering if we would get to the cut-off on the inside before the loose horses got to us.
I remember Norman Williamson arriving on Mely Moss, getting to The Elbow and thinking “I’m going to win the National”. Papillon stalled and Mely Moss’ head appeared on my inside but he then started to run again as we passed the water jump so again I thought “I’m going to win the National”.
I remember the disbelief of that, and I crossed the line thinking “Has that just happened?”
When I was growing up, Irish horses wouldn’t go to Aintree and if they did they wouldn’t win – they weren’t competitive.
I never had that dream of winning the National.
Even riding a pony as a kid, I was pretending to ride in Grand Nationals but I never rode the winner. You fell at The Chair, you fell at Becher’s or you pulled up. I never dreamt of actually winning it.
I couldn’t believe it, and it was 72 hours of my life that I would love to have back again. It was just incredible.
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