Katie Walsh: My 5 favourite Cheltenham Festival memories
The Betway ambassador relives her favourite Festival moments, including her three victories, a family-trained winner and when Ruby was 'at his best'.
1. Dad wins the Triumph Hurdle (Thursday 13 March 1997)
This is one of the first memories I have of Cheltenham, when Commanche Court won the Triumph Hurdle for Dad [Ted Walsh] with Norman Williamson in the saddle.
It was my first time going to Cheltenham and it was Dad’s first winner. Ruby [Walsh] even led him up, which made it even more of a family affair.
I just remember it being a huge occasion and everyone was in such good spirits at home.
It gave the whole yard a big lift and, while I was too young to join in with all the celebrating that the adults were doing over the weekend, I do remember them enjoying themselves!
2. Poker De Sivola wins the National Hunt Chase (Tuesday 17 March 2010)
This is a memory that I’ll never forget.
As an Irish amateur, you never know if you’re going to get a ride at all, let alone at Cheltenham, and, while things were going OK, the next few days completely blew my mind.
As it stood, I didn’t think I was going to get a ride that week, but I got the call on Sunday requesting that I took the ride of the Ferdy Murphy-trained Poker De Sivola.
I was absolutely over the moon as he was an easy winner at Catterick the month before and had gone off as favourite for the Kim Muir the year before that, so I knew of the horse and expected him to go well.
He exceeded my expectations, though and, while we made a few errors throughout the race, he kept finding and we winged the last and moved away up the hill. It’s a feeling you can’t quiet explain – a huge mixture of different emotions.
We all ended up in the 21 Club in Cheltenham and celebrated all night. I’d certainly earned the headache I’d given myself when I was up at the crack of dawn, riding out some of Willie’s [Mullins] horses and helping them stretch their legs.
3. Thousand Stars wins the County Hurdle (Thursday 19 March 2010)
Similar to Poker De Sivola, I didn’t expect to ride Thousand Stars until the day before when Willie gave me the nod.
I hadn’t got a single ride lined up three days beforehand, but suddenly had ridden a winner and got a mount in the County Hurdle.
It was a 28-strong field and was a run at a proper clip – they didn’t hang about.
Thousand Stars won his first two starts after joining Willie from Liam Byrne and I’d ridden him on one occasion at Fairyhouse, so I knew how well he could move and how to switch him off.
I kept him quiet throughout the start of the race, keeping him out of trouble, and he just kept travelling for me. I felt as though I had plenty of horse underneath me and, while we had plenty pass, I was confident we’d make up plenty of ground.
He flew up the hill and we winged the last to move away from the rest of the field and won rather comfortably in the end.
Starting that week with no rides and coming away with two winners was a surreal feeling, and coming in past the stands when you’ve just ridden a winner at Cheltenham is a feeling that is second to none.
4. Ruby wins the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Tuesday 15 March 2011)
When I think of Ruby riding at Cheltenham, there is always one ride that springs to mind.
He always rode at his best around Prestbury Park and enjoyed plenty of winners there, but, for me, his ride on Al Ferof was Ruby at his best.
Other than watching him win the Gold Cup, I’ve never got such a kick from seeing him ride a winner as I had that day.
He had just come back from injury and gave him an absolute corker, switching him off early and letting the others dictate the pace. They went, as they always do, at a proper clip in the first race of the Festival, and Ruby managed to keep Al Ferof under restraint in the first half of the race
He got slightly outpaced coming down the hill but got him going under a drive and they started to make plenty of ground.
Together, they absolutely flew the last and outstayed Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card, which turned out to be very good form!
5. Relegate wins the Champion Bumper (Friday 16 March 2018)
Winning aboard Relegate in the 2018 Champion Bumper was so special for a number of reasons.
First of all, I knew it was going to be my last Cheltenham Festival winner as a rider. Not many people knew, but I had made the decision in my mind.
What made it more special for me was riding a winner on the biggest stage for Willie Mullins, who had supported me throughout my career.
I rode in plenty of bumpers in Ireland, so, as an Irish amateur jockey, to ride the winner of the Cheltenham Bumper was huge.
To top it off, the way we won the race was amazing. It was some thrill to come from the clouds and, once I’d given her a tap, she came alive and absolutely flew up the hill.
Visit Betway's horse racing betting page.