All-time great calls it a day

David Walsh saluting the judge after breaking Lance O'Sullivan's record board Willie Dugan at Blenheim on April 27, 2014. (Photo: Race Images, S.I.).

David Walsh saluting the judge after breaking Lance O’Sullivan’s record aboard Willie Dugan at Blenheim on April 27, 2014. (Photo: Race Images, S.I.).

New Zealand’s all-time record winning jockey David Walsh has today officially announced his retirement from race riding.

Following recent health issues which have sidelined him since August, Walsh has decided to ‘call time’ on a stellar career that has spanned more than 41 years and seen him salute the judge on more than 2500 occasions – no New Zealand-based jockey has ridden more winners.

David Walsh surpassed the previous record of Hall Of Fame jockey Lance O’Sullivan when he rode Willy Duggan to victory at Blenheim on April 27, 2014. O’Sullivan rode 2479 winners both at home and internationally but Walsh’s exact total, while over 2500, is unknown due to there not being a concise record available of his overseas successes.

“I’ve had a fair go over a long period of time – loved every minute of it even with all the ups and downs – but I’m now at a point with recent health issues that I have to say ‘enough’,” said Walsh today.

“I’m on the mend and with riding now behind me I’m looking forward to moving on to a new phase of my life, hopefully continuing in racing. Racing has been great to me and I’d like to think I can now give something back.

“I have no regrets and if I had the chance I would do the same thing all over again.”

David Michael Walsh was born in Ashburton in 1959 and when aged just 13 years he seized the opportunity to work at the stables of Jim Lalor which he did both before and after school. He was so keen that in school holidays he lived at the stable.

At 15 he became apprenticed to Lalor and on the third day of Cup Week at Riccarton in 1974 had his first inauspicious ride on a horse named Darnley Express who beat home just seven runners in a 22-horse field.

Before the year was out Walsh rode his first winner, Three Sevens, one of four successes he notched in that first season. The next season he increased that to 18 winners, then to 44 winners and then in only his fourth season of riding 61 winners – a great career start to the highly talented young rider.

Walsh was so successful that he moved briefly to Riccarton and then on to Palmerston North to be stable rider for the very astute Garth Ivil. It was in the Central Districts and later the Waikato amid numerous sojourns to Australia that Walsh spent most of his riding career. In 2009 he moved back to Riccarton.

Walsh was easily the best front-running jockey in New Zealand and that style to allow horses to run freely in the lead was never more evident than when winning the W.S. Cox Plate on Solvit in 1994, leading for the final 1600 metres in scoring his most memorable win.

“I won several Group Ones on Solvit and he was a top performer,” said Walsh when prompted for the best he’s ridden, “and Courier Bay was a fantastic horse in every respect but didn’t race to his true level in Australia due to ill-luck. He probably deserves a higher place in our racing history.”

David Walsh has played an important part in the history of New Zealand racing for more than four decades. He is held in high regard by his contemporaries and those who have followed his career.

Any decision on a new direction in racing will be eagerly anticipated by a legion of followers and whatever that may be it’s certain to have the 100 percent David Walsh commitment that he applied to race riding throughout his long and successful career.

By Brian de Lore