Katie Walsh is the jewel in the her famous racing family's crown



LIFE, as Tiger Woods’ wife now knows, has a habit of throwing up the odd surprise or two just when you least expected it.

Who’d have thought six months ago that we would be discussing birdies of a very different nature in any conversation concerning Tiger and the Masters?

You’d have got fair odds at the bookies that Tiger’s first tournament appearance of the year 2010 would follow a spell in a clinic for sex addiction.

You’d have also got fair odds on a number of sporting events that didn’t go to plan last week for the Irish and a series of results that proved that sport, like life, is full of surprises.

Let’s start at Cheltenham. Before we traveled to the Olympics of National Hunt racing last week I didn’t even know that Ruby Walsh had a younger sister in the jockey ranks.

That’s to my shame I know. I’m not a regular racegoer and I do take great pleasure, personally and professionally, in being cast in the role of supreme novice at Cheltenham.

The bookies, by the way, took great pleasure in my favored racing role as well last week. Like most punters I was cleaned out.

Anyway, as I suggested, Katie Walsh was something on an unknown quantity to me when we first set foot on one of the most famous racecourses in the world on Tuesday morning of last week.

I knew her father Ted to be one of the most knowledgeable racing commentators in the world and a great jockey in his own right.

I also well knew that her brother Ruby is a genius in the saddle. It’s only when you go to Cheltenham and see the risks that the likes of Ruby take that you fully appreciate his skills.

Katie Walsh might have been a news reader on RTE Radio for all I knew this time last week, but by Friday it was a different story altogether.

By Friday I was even looking to speak to Katie, probably the biggest story of a week that will always be known as Black Cheltenham by those of us who lost our shirts to the bookies.

Katie has been at every Cheltenham since 1997, often there just to ride out on the gallops for the likes of Willie Mullins in her role as one of Ireland’s leading amateur jockeys.

See, I didn’t know she was up there with Nina Carberry in the amateur stakes before last week. Nor did I know that she had ridden around the famous course about six times before she got the call to arms to partner Poker De Sivola for Corkman Ferdy Murphy last Wednesday.

History will record that Katie pipped her great friend Nina to the line to win her first Cheltenham race that day, and history will also tell you Katie added a second victory on Friday when she steered Thousand Stars home for the Hammer and Trowel syndicate.

And therein lies another story. The Hammer and Trowel are Kildare carpenter Ger O’Brien and his blocklayer friend Sean Dean who also own Quevega, a winner on Tuesday, and J’y Vole, third on Thursday.

Two builders suffering in the recession like everyone else at home these days, they did tell me last week that there’s more money in racing than construction in Ireland right now, but we’ll discuss that another day.
What they also told me in the winner’s enclosure last Friday was that they never had any doubts about sending Katie around Cheltenham aboard Thousand Stars.

“She’s a Walsh and that’s good enough for us,” said Clane man Ger who, like everyone else from Kildare including Katie, grew up around horses.

And so a week at Cheltenham threw up an unlikely hero in the shape of 25-year-old Katie Walsh, who finished the 2010 Festival with two winners -- just one short of Ruby’s three, and he ended up as top jockey!

That she was the story of the week is beyond doubt at a festival when the hot favorites, including Kauto Star, Dunguib and Master Minded, all fell like flies.

That lesson should have served us well on the return to Ireland on Friday night, home in time for the Triple Crown showdown with Scotland at Croke Park the following afternoon.

Like the big letdowns at Cheltenham, the Irish team weren’t worth backing at 6/1 on going into Saturday’s final rugby international at headquarters.

And I’m sorry to say that I can’t tell you what price Scotland were in the two horse race.

I didn’t back Ireland because I had no money left after Cheltenham, and I didn’t back Scotland because I would never back against my own team. More’s the pity.

Scotland won by just three points on Saturday, but they were worth far more than that after a brave performance that exposed huge holes in the Irish psyche and left us to worry ahead of next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.

At least Declan Kidney and his team have over a year now -- and another Six Nations -- to sort it out.

The players humbled by the Scots on a damp squib of a Croker farewell will be back in action with their provinces this weekend, and back with their country on the summer tour to Australia and New Zealand.

Sadly the Cheltenham rejects will have a little longer to wait for revenge.

Those of us who lost our shirts in England last week will have to wait 12 months to win them back -- and that’s a long time to walk around naked!

Now there’s an image you don’t want to leave in your head but, as the intro said, life is full of surprises.

Just ask Mrs Woods -- and Miss Walsh.

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