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The Grand National has been a happy hunting ground for the Walsh family over the years. In 2000, Ruby won the Grand National at his first attempt, riding a horse, Papillon, trained by his father, Ted Walsh. Ruby won the race again in 2005 on Hedgehunter. Meanwhile, last year Katie Walsh secured the best ever Grand National finish for a female jockey when she came in third on Seabass.
Here, Ruby and Katie reveal a little more about racing, family and the unique event that is the Grand National.
Did you both grow up around horses all the time?
K: Yeah, it was always horses. Dad trained, and his father used to train, so we just grew up with them.
Did you always want to become jockeys?
K: It probably was for Ruby…
R: Yeah, you hope so. I always loved riding, so it was definitely what I wanted to do.
Katie, do you think you were treated differently by your dad? Fathers can be quite protective of their daughters… Was he as keen for you to become a jockey as he was for Ruby?
K: Well, I’m in the sport, but I’m not in it to the extent that Ruby’s in it. Ruby does it every day of the week. I’m an amateur, and I ride maybe two or three times a week max. I wouldn’t be riding over jumps half as many times as Ruby. So it’s a bit different. But yeah, sure, the father-daughter thing is always going to be there.
You’re from a sporting family – were you competitive with each other growing up?
R: Not really. Katie’s five years younger than me, so other than when we’re racing against each other, we’ve never been that competitive.
What’s it like having a brother as successful as Ruby to follow? Is it an inspiration, or added pressure?
K: I wouldn’t call it pressure anyway – it’s great. It’s great to be able to watch the racing every day, knowing that Ruby’s going to be riding three or four. It’s great entertainment, but it’s absolutely no pressure for me whatsoever.
Do you think women have to work harder to secure success and to get good rides?
K: Yeah, they’re just hard to come by. It’s a very male-dominated sport, and a very hard sport, physically. So it’s going to be difficult. But it’s great to be involved in a sport where women and men can compete against each other on a professional level. It’s probably the only sport where that happens.
Do you get nervous, watching each other race?
K: Yeah, I do sometimes get nervous watching Ruby.
R: Over jumps, yeah, you sometimes worry that something might happen to her, but I never worry that she won’t be able to perform.
Do you enjoy racing against each other?
K: We’d never really think about it like that, would we?
R: No, not really?
K: We might have a bit of craic and a bit of rivalry and a bit of messing, but that’s it.
R: If you’re riding the best horse, you’ll win, so you’re more worried about the horse you’re riding than the jockey you’re riding against.
Do you ever discuss tactics or walk the course together before a race?
K: I more go to Ruby and ask him different things about different horses and different tracks. For the National we’ll walk the track together, stuff like that, but very rarely, to be honest.
Katie, Nina Carberry is your sister-in-law. As two of the top women jockeys, do you have a friendly rivalry going?
K: Not really. We’ll ask each other what we’ll be riding and so on, and obviously when you’re out there it’s competitive, and everyone’s looking after themselves, but I wouldn’t say we have a rivalry going, no.
Ruby, you’ve won both The Grand Nationals and Cheltenham Gold Cup. How do the two compare?
R: They’re very different races. The Gold Cup is a championship race, the Grand National is the people’s race. You get very different horses for very different races, and I’m very privileged to have won them both.
Katie, last year you recorded the best ever finish in a Grand National by a female jockey. Does that sort of thing mean a lot to you?
Absolutely nothing. I would never thought, when I pulled up, I was the best finishing female jockey, I just thought it was great to finish third in the National. I never think about it like that, my gender doesn’t come into it.
Does the fact that you’ve both done well in the National before fill you with confidence every time you take part in the race?
K: A lot of it is just to do with age and experience as well. As you get older, you get more mature, and you can handle certain situations a little bit better. But you have to be riding the right horse on the right day.
Channel 4’s going to be covering the Grand National for the first time this year. What do you make of their coverage?
R: Channel 4 do very in-depth coverage of racing, and it’s great for racing, the coverage they give it. They’ve got very knowledgeable analysts, and it’s just great that racing has such coverage on terrestrial television.
When you all get together as a family, is it all racing talk?
R: No. We are able to have lives outside of racing!
Is there anyone in the family who doesn’t like racing?
K: I wouldn’t say so. But we all have lots of other interests outside of racing.
R: For example, the Ireland v England rugby match will be on tomorrow at our place, simple as that!
When you retire from racing, do you want to stay in the sport? Maybe get into training?
R: I want a job with Channel 4!
K: It’s a long way down the road yet, let’s see what happens.
The Grand National is on Channel 4 on Saturday 6th April at 4.15pm. Channel 4 will cover the entire meeting, afternoons on 4-6 April.