Members of the Supreme Horse Racing Club are on cloud nine after Ruby Walsh signed off his glittering riding career by steering Kemboy to victory in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup.
The legendary jockey announced his immediate retirement from the saddle after landing the feature event of the Punchestown Festival, with Kemboy seeing off the sustained challenge of his Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning stable companion Al Boum Photo in a thrilling finish.
Walsh was seen to wave goodbye to the crowd as Kemboy passed the post and bows out having ridden over 2,500 winners and with more Cheltenham Festival successes to his name than any other rider in history.
Kemboy is ante-post favourite for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup – a race in which he made it no further than the first fence in March.
But whatever happens with Kemboy next season, he is assured of his place in history having provided Walsh with his last ever winner – a fact that is not lost on his connections.
Steve Massey, racing manager for the successful syndicate, said: “It’s absolutely unbelievable. I don’t think any of us saw it coming.
“Ruby is an absolute superstar and a fantastic horseman. To me, he’s the best National Hunt jockey there’s ever been.
“Whether he’s riding in a handicap at Tramore or the Punchestown Gold Cup, he knows the form of all the horses in the races and the strengths and weaknesses of all his rivals.
“He’s a complete professional and a total gent and it’s fantastic for him and his family that he’s gone out on a high.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in that he’s retired and for him to ride his last ever winner in our colours is just incredible.
“It’s a day none of us will ever forget.”
Of Kemboy, Massey added: “He’s an unbelievable little horse. He had a great novice campaign last season, but if you’d told me this time last year that he’d win three Grade Ones this season I wouldn’t have believed you.
“He’s won a Clonmel Oil Chase, a Savills Chase, an Aintree Bowl and a Punchestown Gold Cup. His only blip came at Cheltenham, but hopefully he’ll get a chance to put that right next March.
“He’ll get a well-earned holiday now and his owners can spend the summer dreaming, which is what it’s all about.”
Arguably the greatest horse Walsh ever rode was Kauto Star – the record-breaking five-times of the King George VI Chase at Kempton and the only horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Kauto Star’s owner, Clive Smith, paid a fitting tribute to the legendary rider.
Smith said: “I was out and about yesterday and didn’t get chance to watch the race, so I’m just catching up with the news this morning.
“Ruby did a wonderful job for me as an owner. He did incredibly well, coming over from Ireland to ride Kauto and Master Minded and Big Buck’s.
“He’s a real sportsman and a professional jockey of the highest order – he always rode so well under pressure.
“He’s a real gentleman and it was always a pleasure to speak to him and his family.”
Another owner for whom Walsh enjoyed multiple big-race wins is John Hales – including two Punchestown Gold Cups on Neptune Collonges and the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Azertyuiop.
“I owe Ruby a great deal,” said Hales.
“I text him last night, firstly to say I’m glad he won’t be riding against my horses any more and secondly to congratulate him on a fantastic career.
“When he went past the post yesterday he signalled his five Punchestown Gold Cup wins and two of those were on Neptune Collonges.
“He’s a great guy and a great jockey. He’s suffered some horrendous injuries, but he’s always had the guts to come back and carry on.
“It was a pleasure and privilege to have him ride my horses.”