Ruby Walsh quits role as Paul Nicholls' No 1 jockey
Even now, its greatest race cannot find a way to the top of the British racing agenda. True, the prospect of riding in the Investec Derby on Saturday continues to animate Frankie Dettori as he approaches a final obstacle to the restoration of his licence in France. Today, however, it was a jockey of equivalent standing in jump racing who unexpectedly dominated the sport's conversations.
Ruby Walsh's decision to surrender his role as stable jockey to Paul Nicholls was the fruit of a rare opportunity for calm detachment. After the big spring festivals, he has been able to spend precious time at home in Ireland with his young family. At 34, he plainly found this sample of a less frantic lifestyle increasingly to his taste. Having for so long divided his time between Nicholls and Ireland's champion trainer, Willie Mullins, Walsh has decided that even the willingness of both to share his obligations is no longer worth the associated burdens in time and travel.
Nicholls is at pains to emphasise how amicably their 11-year partnership has come to an end. Inevitably, however, he is bound to ponder Walsh's departure in the context of others that had already identified a crossroads in his own career. Harry Fry and Dan Skelton, two of his young lieutenants, have both quit to begin training in their own right, while Kauto Star has been retired and the ageing Big Buck's is sidelined with injury. Last month Nicholls yielded his trainers' title, first wrested from Martin Pipe in 2006, to Nicky Henderson.
As such, the promotion of Daryl Jacob to No 1 jockey at Ditcheat will compound a sense that the stable is rebuilding from young talent. Jacob, 29, was quick to vindicate his appointment as Walsh's understudy by winning the 2012 Grand National on Neptune Collonges. And, as Walsh stressed when breaking the news in his Irish Examiner column: "There was never going to be an easy or right time to make the decision… Silviniaco Conti, Al Ferof, Big Buck's and Zarkandar are hard horses to give away the ride on. However, I no longer feel I can give 100 per cent to two yards – and being a bit-part player will only hinder both. I hope this decision will enable me to prolong the career I love for years to come. Willie's yard is well stocked with talent and hopefully some future stars. What I have left behind is a powerful yard, headed up by a gentleman, and friendships made for life."
None of the acrimony in this instance, then, that disfigured the end of Dettori's still longer association with Godolphin – in which his decision to ride Camelot for Ballydoyle in the Arc last autumn was viewed as the final straw. Paris and the Co Tipperary stable are again central to the Italian's thoughts as he today awaits clearance by a medical commission of the French regulatory body. Dettori has taken a series of additional tests since an unspecified "glitch" caused a delay in the return of his licence, following a six-month drugs suspension. The British Horseracing Authority has promised to expedite its own licensing process, given due encouragement from France Galop today.
The 11th-hour candidature of Magician, following his success at the Curragh on Saturday, has renewed the prospect of Aidan O'Brien fielding a bigger team than he suggested last week – and, in turn, of furnishing Dettori with a mount. O'Brien accounts for six of the 15 hats still in the ring. Chopin, the German raider, was supplemented for £75,000. The going is good, good to firm in places, but rain is anticipated.
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