Willie Mullins believes Ruby Walsh’s ability to think for himself in races has helped make him the most successful jockey of all time at the Cheltenham Festival.
Walsh will start the showpiece meeting today on 38 winners – nine more than his great friend and rival AP McCoy – and hot favourite to finish as top jockey for the sixth time in the past seven years.
His top rides at the Festival are set to include a host of Mullins’ best horses, including Hurricane Fly in the Stan James Champion Hurdle and wonder mare Quevega in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle today.
Mullins, the eight-time champion trainer in Ireland, said Walsh’s willingness to change tactics in race, if necessary, was a strong weapon in his armoury as a jockey.
He said Walsh’s skills in the saddle were underlined by the way he got the best out of Briar Hill to gain a 25-1 shock win in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at last year’s Festival.
“Visually Briar Hill’s not good on the gallop at home and that day he did more than we expected,” said Mullins.
“Luckily enough Ruby was available and scratching around for a ride!
“Probably because Ruby is fella who has so much confidence riding around Cheltenham, he gave him the ride he did and it paid off.
“We dropped him out, and looking at the way he works, you’d say he was a galloper and needed to be up there.
“I don’t tie Ruby down to instructions and he does what he wants to do.
“Sometimes you discuss a race and the race turns out totally different than how you’d discussed it would go.
“If you have a jockey who just does what you tell them and they come back and say, ‘I should have done this’, it’s a case of saying to them, ‘Well, why didn’t you do it, then?’.
“I prefer a guy like Ruby who does it. Sometimes it will go wrong, but that happens and it’s part of the game.”
Mullins is odds-on favourite to finish as the leading trainer at the Festival because of the army of talented horses, several of them unbeaten, at his yard in County Carlow.
With 29 Festival winners before the start of this week’s meeting, he said one of the keys to his success was giving horses enough time to fulfil their potential and making sure they weren’t rushed.
“Every yard goes through cycles and I hope our cycle is still going up and we’ll try to keep it going for as long as we can,” said Mullins.
“When I get a good horse I try to mind it, and if you’ve got a good horse with a good rating there are only three or four races they can run in.
“The difference between jump racing and Flat racing is that if you’ve got a good jump horse who sustains an injury you can put them away and mind them and bring them back fully fit.
“Flat people tend to think, ‘Okay, that’s him retired, let’s move on to the next one’. Jump horses tend to stay in training for longer and build up a rapport with the public. That’s where jump racing wins out.
“I’m very lucky that I’ve got a bunch of owners who understand racing, and that’s why they come to me in the first place. The key is that they let me get on with the job.
“Most people who come to me know the style the yard is run in and they’re happy with it.”