Record-setting jockey David Walsh hangs up his saddle

One of New Zealand's finest jockeys, record-setting David Walsh has retired.
Iain McGregor

One of New Zealand's finest jockeys, record-setting David Walsh has retired.

Record-setting jockey David Walsh, 57, has announced his retirement from riding after 41 seasons in the saddle.

But if he had his way he would do it all over again.

"If I had the chance I'd do it all over again. I guess you can't pay a career a higher compliment than that," said the man who has ridden some of the greats of the New Zealand turf.

He rates Cox Plate winner Solvit the best of them all.

"Solvit has to be the best, he won the best race against the best horses but I've been lucky to ride some great horses, others like Courier Bay and Lomondy."

Back in September Walsh returned to Christchurch after serious illness brought an end to a riding contract in Mauritius and hasn't race ridden since.   

Walsh, who established a new record with the 2,360th New Zealand win of his career at Blenheim in April 2014, wasn't sure of his plans at that stage as he battled to recover.

He notched win No 2360 on Willy Duggan in the Marlborough Cup taking the Christchurch-based rider past the previous record, set by Lance O'Sullivan who retired in 2003.

Only five jockeys have topped 2000 wins in New Zealand, the other greats being the late Bill Skelton, along with David Peake and Noel Harris.

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An intestinal condition, diverticulitis had troubled Walsh in the past and flared up in Mauritius, requiring an operation and a long recovery period. 

Walsh was hospitalised and during an operation it was discovered he had appendicitis as well and his appendix was removed.

He spent 10 days in hospital and a similar period of recovery before being cleared to travel, and he and his wife Julie returned home.

Earlier last year year with  fewer riding opportunities, Walsh applied for a stewards' position with the Racing Integrity Unit but his application was unsuccessful as there were no available positions in the South Island.

The legendary jockey, known for his hard work and commitment had another operation last month and is now back in good health and "almost ready to get back on the golf course".

"My health has improved out of sight," he said. "I'm feeling better day by day.

"I've had a fair go over a long period of time – loved every minute of it even with all the ups and downs – I just feel there's a certain point when you've got to call it quits," Walsh said.

"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."

Born in Ashburton in1959, aged 13 he seized the opportunity to work at the stables of Jim Lalor which he did both before and after school.

At aged 15 he became apprenticed to Lalor and on the third day of Cup Week at Riccarton in 1974 had his first ride on a horse named Darnley Express.

Before the year was out Walsh rode his first winner, named 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.

Walsh was so successful that he moved briefly to Riccarton and then on to Palmerston North to be stable rider for 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 excelled as a judge of pace and was a brilliant front-running jockey able to allow horses to run freely in the lead which he did winning the Cox Plate on Solvit in 1994.

An action man, Walsh will miss going to the track.

"I've always enjoyed going to the track and riding track work, keeping active and busy," said Walsh who won two New Zealand jockeys' premierships during a wonderful career that also took him to Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malyasia and Mauritius.




 - Stuff

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