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Cheltenham Festival 2019: Ruby Walsh 'disgusted' after fall on Benie Des Dieux

Ruby Walsh

Jockey Ruby Walsh felt “disgusted” but will put his dramatic final-flight Cheltenham Festival fall on leader Benie Des Dieux behind him, his father Ted has told BBC Sport.

The meeting’s all-time leading rider came down when four lengths clear in the Mares’ Hurdle, four years after he fell aboard another Willie Mullins-trained favourite, Annie Power, in similar circumstances.

Walsh had won plaudits after a beautifully-judged ride on Klassical Dream in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle yielded his 59th career winner at the meeting.

“He’s a realist. He knows what can go right and what can go wrong,” said Ted Walsh.

“That’s why he gets such a kick out of the big days. He absolutely absorbs the win. He never takes one for granted. He’s ridden 59 winners round here and I’d say the one today meant as much as the first one.”

Day of drama at the Festival

Klassical Dream owner Joanne Coleman with trainer Willie Mullins

The late fall of 10-11 chance Benie Des Dieux was one dramatic moment on an incident-packed opening day where heavy rain hit the track in the morning and forecast high winds put the second day on Wednesday in doubt.

Meanwhile, the three favourites in the feature race – the Champion Hurdle – all finished out of the places as Espoir D’Allen caused a 16-1 upset. Defending champion Buveur D’Air crashed out early in the race and Apple’s Jade and Laurina disappointed.

Winning trainer Gavin Cromwell is also a farrier and had actually changed Apple’s Jade shoes last week, yet saddled the most convincing winner in the race’s history – a 15-length triumph for owner JP McManus.

Another comfortable victory went to Mullins, who celebrated a double in the first two races when Duc Des Genievres surged clear to take the Arkle Chase by 13 lengths.

The earlier triumph with Klassical Dream was a poignant one as the horse’s owner John Coleman died last summer.

His widow Joanne said: “John’s ashes are in my handbag. He wanted desperately to make this Cheltenham. He’s not missed one in 20-odd years and we’ve brought him.”

The rollercoaster of emotions also saw Mullins lose one of his runners when Ballyward was fatally injured in the concluding National Hunt Chase.

There was brighter news for Rachael Blackmore, who is bidding to become the first woman to be champion jockey back home in Ireland, and claimed her first Cheltenham Festival winner as A Plus Tard took the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase for trainer Henry de Bromhead.

Beware The Bear, trained by Nicky Henderson, won the Ultima Handicap Chase under Jerry McGrath.

The concluding four-mile National Hunt Chase saw Jamie Codd win aboard Le Brueil for Gloucestershire trainer Ben Pauling.

They prevailed by half a length from Discorama. The runner-up’s co-owner Andrew Gemmell – who has been blind since birth – will hope to go one better with Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Paisley Park on Thursday

Cheltenham’s rise and fall

Ruby Walsh falls off Annie Power in 2015

Ruby Walsh, who had said beforehand that last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux was his best chance of a winner at the meeting, left the course without speaking to reporters.

The fall brought back memories of Annie Power, whose tumble in 2015 saved bookmakers an estimated £40m payout as the last leg of what would have been a four-timer for Walsh and Mullins.

While the liabilities this time would have been lower, they were still significant.

“Knowing what it saved us, I reckon around £8m for the industry would be an estimate,” said Barry Orr, a spokesman for Betfair.

Walsh himself is widely regarded as one of the best – if not the best – jockey of his generation.

But that did not stop abuse from a section of punters on social media, with some questioning his role as an ambassador for Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

Benie Des Deux’s owner, the former banker Rich Ricci, knows all about criticism after unfavourable comments following the closure of BetBright, where he was executive chairman, and the firm’s refusal to honour ante-post bets.

“I don’t want the trolls to attack Ruby. He is the best jockey in the world and it happens,” said Ricci.

“It has been a very difficult week, but the horse is great and Ruby is fine, which is the most important thing.”

Ted Walsh said his son would have a sense of perspective, bearing in mind injuries suffered by colleagues.

At the Festival six years ago, JT McNamara was left paralysed after a fall and died in 2016.

“Ruby has put so many bad days into their category, and gone out the next day. And they are not bad days, they are blips,” said Ted.

“John Thomas was a bad day and he realises that. Ruby’s got four healthy young kids – he’s very much aware of the world as it is and the good fortune he has. He knows how lucky he has been.

“It’s part of the game, it’s what it is. It’s a leveller, you can never take anything for granted, but that’s why he’s been so successful – he can put those things into a draw and go on.

“These sort of things give you a check – to take nothing for granted, ever. You have never won until you go past the winning post.

“He’s obviously disgusted. If you can get up and laugh over things like that, then there is something wrong with you as well.”

The Benie Des Dieux tumble benefited Roskana, a winner under Harry Skelton for his trainer brother Dan, a former assistant to 10-time champion Paul Nicholls, for whom Walsh rode jump racing stars such as Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded and Big Buck’s.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Ruby and he taught me so much when I was assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls. He’ll get up, dust himself off and go again for the rest of the week. That’s racing,” said Dan Skelton.

There were celebrations elsewhere as Cheltenham welcomed a record opening-day crowd of 67,934.

It saw the second-biggest Totepool Placepot dividend of all time as one on-course customer took home £182,567.80 for a £2 straight line bet, in which they selected only one horse in each race.

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BBC Sport – Horse Racing

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