Retiring Walsh is the greatest jump jockey of all time, says McCoy

AP McCoy (left) congratulated Ruby Walsh after he announced his retirement

Racing legend Sir AP McCoy described Ruby Walsh as the greatest jump jockey of all time after his friend and former rival retired following a record-breaking career.

Walsh, 39, announced his retirement on Wednesday after winning the Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy.

McCoy compared the talents of Walsh to Barcelona striker Lionel Messi.

“He was the best jockey I ever saw riding and the best I ever rode against,” McCoy told BBC Sport.

McCoy, the 20-time champion jockey who retired in 2015, said he was pleased that Walsh – who like him retired less than a fortnight before his 40th birthday – had gone out “at the peak of his powers” and not due to injury.

“It’s great for him to go out in one piece here at his local track in the biggest race. It was very much the fairytale ending,” he said.

“He was like Lionel Messi on a horse. You can coach kids how to play football but you can’t turn them into Lionel Messi. You can teach people to ride horses but you can’t turn them into Ruby Walsh.

“It’s a big loss for racing and the people who want to come out and see superstars as he was the biggest.”

Walsh, who has ridden a record 59 winners at jump racing’s showpiece Cheltenham Festival, waved to the crowd as he passed the winning post on Kemboy after beating his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Al Boum Photo, the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.

As the jockey, who was brought up in nearby Naas, was interviewed on the podium at the Kildare track he dropped the bombshell that he was retiring from the spot.

“Time moves on, I’ve done this for 24 years and to be honest I want to do something else for the next 24. I can’t do this forever,” he said later.

Walsh embraced his wife Gillian and three young daughters amid emotional scenes following his announcement.

It brings to an end a career that saw Grand National wins on Papillon and Hedgehunter and two Gold Cup wins with Kauto Star.

He also rode the brilliant steeplechasers Denman and Master Minded and top hurdlers including Hurricane Fly, Big Buck’s, Faugheen, Annie Power and Quevega in spells as stable jockey for English champion trainer Paul Nicholls and Irish champion Mullins.

“Any jockey is only as good as the horses he is riding. I was lucky to be riding the best. A lot of the best horses there ever was. In my lifetime anyway,” he said.

Walsh’s father Ted trained Papillon, who gave Ruby his first Grand National win in 2000, and fought back tears as he summed up his son’s achievements.

“It was a nice way to go, he’s at the top of his game. It’s like a fella sticking a ball in the back of the net in the World Cup and saying that’s it,” he told BBC Sport.

“He was never after records and never after numbers. It was about the big days from very early on in his career.”

Walsh’s career was littered with injuries – which once led to him having his spleen removed – and he suffered dramatic final hurdle falls at the Festival on Annie Power and Benie Des Dieux.

But his father said it was his ability to recover from those setbacks which marked him out as a top rider.

“He has done a lot of damage to himself along the way but had a great mind – I think that was his biggest asset,” Walsh Sr told BBC Sport.

“The great jockeys, golfers, footballers, rugby players have that great mind. They might miss three penalties but they will score the fourth. Not many can do that.”

Walsh Sr added he expected his son to embark on a media career and still be involved with trainer Mullins.

Asked to sum him up his son’s career in one sentence, he said: “Just magic. You could not have foreseen when I legged him up on Wild Irish in a Bumper at Leopardstown 24 years ago that all this would happen. Magic.”

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