Ruby Walsh stood in the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham for the third time on Tuesday, and the perils of his job were there for all to see.
The Kildare jockey had just steered the brilliant Quevega to a third consecutive win in the Mares’ Hurdle to set a blistering pace in the race to become top jockey at this week’s festival.
Such an honor is nothing new for the son of trainer, former jockey and TV analyst Ted.
He has won every race there is to be won at Cheltenham and at most racecourses in Britain and Ireland, completing his Cotswolds set with a Champion Hurdle win aboard Hurricane Fly earlier that afternoon.
As a result of his magnificent day’s work, Walsh was the center of attention when he dismounted Quevega and stood in front of an appreciate crowd and a waiting media audience.
He was calm and collected, acknowledging that for all the good days he has enjoyed in racing there have been bad days as well.
One of them came last November when he fell at Down Royal and broke his leg.
Just last week he was kicked by a horse at Naas and took two stitches to the wound below his eye.
That wound was still visible as he triumphed at Cheltenham yesterday. So was the raw courage and sheer talent he delivers each and every time he sits up on a horse.
Walsh is an Irish sporting genius, a legend in his own lifetime, a national treasurer.
To watch him win in the flesh, as we did again on Tuesday, is one of the great pleasures of our sporting lives.
I say that as someone with little or no knowledge or racing. I am, thanks to Star newspaper, the Supreme Novice sent to Cheltenham every year for the last three years to try and come to terms with the vagrancies of the betting game.
I’m still struggling on that front but Tuesday -- Ruby Tuesday as it will be forever known -- finished on a winning if funny high.
Let me explain just why I would like to apologize to Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and divers everywhere for taking their name in vain on Tuesday.
I would also like to take this opportunity to apologize to Mrs. Ryan, my French teacher at St. Patrick’s Classical School in Navan many years ago.
Clearly, I wasn’t listening during French pronunciation class as events just after a quarter past five in the betting ring on the first day of the festival at Cheltenham made abundantly clear.
I was stood there with my friend and gambling cohort Philip, desperately straining our ears for a mention of our £5 each way hope Divers in the last race of the day, the Centenary Novices’ Handicap Steeple Chase.
We had worked out the name of the horse by using terminology from the soccer world we both inhabit on a frequent basis.
As far as we were concerned, and we were quite happy with this, our horse was called Divers as in Ronaldo and Nani and also those other footballers who fall down as soon as they are tackled -- players who dive in other words.
That’s why we weren’t all that excited when the race commentator had still made no mention of our fellow and our fiver when the horses came into view, down the hill to our left and three fences from home.
Then came the charge of the light brigade as the Ferdy Murphy trained grey, carrying the red and yellow diamonds and the purple sleeves, came through the field at pace.
The commentator had clearly paid more attention in French class than I had and Divers was on his way to victory.
That’s when the penny dropped. Our horse’s name didn’t rhyme with the fiver we had on his back – it’s the French for diverse.
By the time Graham Lee had steered Divers past the finishing post, we were jumping for joy as those around us dived for cover.
It was a sweet, sweet moment at the end of a day that saw Hurricane Fly and Quevega and Ruby deliver for Ireland and for my bank balance.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret -- I told Niall O’Dowd of our Irish Voice parish all about Divers by email when I got to Cheltenham on Tuesday.
I hope he paid attention unlike me in that French class all those years ago, even if I do know what the word magnifique means and how to pronounce it! English Win Is Critical
Not even the growing sense of injustice could divert Brian O’Driscoll from a non-Welsh related question deep in the bowels of Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday night.
Ireland’s season had effectively just ended when Wales triumphed thanks to an illegal try that should never have been awarded, a try you can read more about elsewhere in this paper.
The Triple Crown hopes and the last lingering chances of a Six Nations championship disappeared when the final whistle sounded on Saturday and O’Driscoll knew it.
His criticism of match referee Jonathan Kaplan’s decision to award the controversial Mike Phillips try was intense and intended, if you know what I mean.
But he still took exception to the suggestion, from an English journalist, that the game against the old enemy at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday is of little or no consequence for Ireland and the Irish.
“Clearly anyone who suggests that doesn’t know what it means for any Ireland team to play England,” stormed Dricco as he put his inquisitor back firmly in his box.
The captain is right, of course. Ireland against England is special no matter what the sport.
That’s why the cricket team’s win in their World Cup a few weeks ago, against the country that invented the game, was so, so special.
It’s why Ray Houghton will never have to put his hand in his pocket again in an Irish bar after scoring the goal that bashed the Brits in Stuttgart all those years ago.
It’s why visiting racing fans will spend their week at Cheltenham counting Irish winners and comparing them to England’s tally.
Beating England is part of what we are about so it’s good to hear that our rugby captain hasn’t lost sight of that despite all the criticism of his team’s recent performances.
Something is wrong with the Irish rugby team right now. They’re not playing well enough to inspire confidence ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand this September and they are definitely not playing well enough to be confident ahead of this weekend’s game with the Grand Slam winners elect.
But that will be irrelevant when the game kicks-off at 5 p.m. this Saturday.
A win against England will right all the current wrongs of Irish rugby.
Brian O’Driscoll said as much in Cardiff last Saturday. Let’s hope he can turn words into action and give us all a lift. Sideline Views
GAA: The president of America will become a GAA fan on St. Patrick’s Day when Tipperary hurling captain Eoin Kelly and his Dublin football counterpart Bernard Brogan visit the White House. Kelly and Brogan plan to present President Obama with a hurley and Tipp and Dublin jerseys in honor of the occasion. Maybe he’ll wear them to a basketball game and give the GAA a real marketing boost in the U.S.!
SOCCER: Great line from the QPR manager Neil Warnock after his Irish goalkeeper Paddy Kenny was pelted with plastic bottles by Crystal Palace fans at Loftus Road on Saturday. “If they hit him in the head he should be all right,” laughed Warnock. Kenny by the way must be astounded that he isn’t in the Irish squad as back-up to Keiren Westwood for the Macedonia game on Saturday, March 26.
BOXING: Great to see Andy Lee deliver that knock-out blow to Craig McEwan on
Saturday night. Irish boxing needs another world championship contender, and while Lee wasn’t brilliant, he did win and will fight another day. And a few more after that I suspect.HERO OF THE WEEK
NO contest. Ruby Walsh had three winners at Cheltenham on Tuesday, just three months after breaking his leg in a fall at Down Royal. Walsh’s achievement forced one Irish bookie to sing ‘Ruby Tuesday’ in his honor at a city center hotel later that night. The Irish punters will be singing his praises for the rest of the week and rightly so.IDIOT OF THE WEEK
NO contest again. Referee Jonathon Kaplan and touch judge Peter Allan contrived to award Wales a try that never was at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. Ireland probably didn’t play well enough to win the game but that’s not the point. An injustice was done and it was wrong.