Magazine article The Spectator

Peak Power

Magazine article The Spectator

Peak Power

Article excerpt

Only over the past two or three weeks has the horse-racing community turned its attention to jumping but the National Hunt world has not been standing still. When Flat racing ended at Doncaster on 5 November, the racing phenomenon known as A.P. McCoy had already ridden 115 winners in the jumping season, which still has five months to go, while his perpetual pursuer Richard Johnson was on 88. Sadly, the same day came a stark reminder of the perils of the winter trade. If this is A.P.'s year, cemented by the great wave of public admiration and affection that greeted McCoy's Grand National victory on Don't Push It, it certainly hasn't been Ruby Walsh's year.

Just two races before McCoy rode Don't Push It to victory in April, Ruby broke his arm badly in a fall from Celestial Halo.

He was not back riding until August. On 5 November, no sooner had Ireland's champion jockey ridden former Gold Cup winner Kauto Star to victory on his seasonal comeback at Down Royal than he had a horrific fall on Corrick Bridge in a handicap chase, suffering a double fracture of his leg which will again keep him out of the saddle for months; at the time of year that will really hurt.

It is tough for Ruby and tricky for Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, the champion trainers in the two countries for whom Ruby is the first-choice rider, but at least we racegoers can give ourselves a reminder of what we will be missing with the rider's recently published book Ruby: The Autobiography (Orion, £18.99). Forget, he suggests, what you see in the stands.

The rides that stand out to the naked eye are naturally the exciting ones, races where a jockey keeps working on a horse and gets it up on the line to win and everybody turns round and says fair play to him. But most of race-riding is actually in your head. It's a series of mental tasks rather than one huge physical one and brains will beat brawn every time if you use them the right way. Your physical strength might only win you one race in a hundred, if that . . . it's in your head that you can have the greatest effect as a jockey It's not so much the ability to control a horse mentally either.

It's more the ability to keep the horse relaxed for as long as possible, to save as much energy as it possibly can.

The jockey's job, says Ruby, is using his judgment to determine when to release that conserved energy. …

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