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27th Apr 2023

Ruby Walsh and Davy Russell’s tense but passionate debate makes for tremendous TV

Niall McIntyre

RTE’s coverage of the Punchestown racing festival ran for just over three hours on Wednesday.

And with Davy Russell and Ruby Walsh on the panel, butting heads, talking it through and, occasionally agreeing to disagree, you’d have to say that, for a finish, three hours wasn’t half long enough.

To the enchanted viewer, it’s clear that the lads – two of Ireland’s greatest ever national hunt jockeys – possess a textbook love hate relationship.

They agree on some things, disagree on more but the one guarantee is passion. There’s never a backward step taken.

Regardless of the sport, it’s always bland when pundit panels are all pally-pally and cosy manners. Think of Eamon Dunphy, think of Roy Keane and you smile about the times they got stuck into it and stood up for their own point of view.

Well, from the very word-go, less than two minutes after the show began, Russell and Walsh were already trading comments.

The first topic, raised by host Hugh Cahill, was trainer Emmett Mullins’ unorthodox campaigning of his horse Feronily, who ran bumpers, hurdles and chases all in the one season – before winning a Grade One Chase in Punchestown on Tuesday.

“Emmett Mullins has kind of torn up the traditional route of what a horse should do in a season,” said Cahill.

“He’s gone from a bumper to a hurdle to a grade one winner in the same season.

“Does it change the traditional notion, and suggest that maybe we can rush things on a little bit? asked the Laois man.

Traditionally, horses would go from bumpers to hurdles to chases season by season, let’s not forget, rather than doing the three-in-one-year.

This was the only cue Davy and Ruby needed to get stuck into it.

Ruby Walsh: Well where do you go with Feronily now?

Davy Russell” Well you go to the French champion hurdle, and then he’s a novice until Fairyhouse next year, isn’t he?

Ruby Walsh: He’s not. So you’re wrong. Because he won a Grade One so he’s not a novice. He’s not a novice over hurdles. Unless he’s a Gold Cup horse but he has to be the Gold Cup horse, so you’ve played all your cards in one hand?

Davy Russell: Wouldn’t he win a Charlie Hall?”

Ruby Walsh: Would he?”

Davy Russell: I think he’d win a Charlie Hall. Would he win a Hennessy?”

Ruby Walsh: The Hennessy. He’s going to be the highest rated novice in training but if you look at it, it’s off Bachasson, it’s a true run now. 

That’s how you rate him. And I do agree what people are saying. But you’re foregoing a whole novice hurdle and chase season, you’re playing all the eggs in one basket. This is what interests me, they’ve bucked the trend with where they’ve went. I want to know what they’re going to do now.”

Davy Russell: They tried him over hurdles. In their eyes he wasn’t good enough, they weren’t going to go down the handicap route with him. They felt that the three mile chase division wasn’t on fire and they exposed it. He’s a six year old, he’s point-to-pointed, he’s all the graft done and experience. Anyone out there in this parade ring would give their right hand for a Grade One winner, they’ve ticked that box. Now they can do whatever they want, go to France, the Hennessy…”

Ruby Walsh: By the way it’s the Coral Gold Cup (Rather than the Hennessy)

Someone has to get the last word in.

The next topic was on the subject of horse sales in Ireland and this one got a little more heated.

Davy Russell: It goes to show, be at the sales and get the job done.”

Ruby Walsh: You talk about going to the sales, they all know which one to get.

Davy Russell: Yeah but that’s the beauty about them sales, and if you go to them sales. I see a lot of trainers here giving out about the sales, but they don’t go to the sales to try and buy the horses. That horse was bought by James Doyle down in Wexford, and sold to the Nolans.

Ruby Walsh: Were they all playing on the same playing field?

Davy Russell: Pardon.

Ruby Walsh: Are they all batting on the same playing field at the sales?

Davy Russell: In what way?

Ruby Walsh: Money they have to spend.

Davy Russell: Who?

Ruby Walsh: Racehorses trainers vs someone who’s going to sell one again. Are they all playing on the same pitch

Davy Russell: I don’t understand the question

Ruby Walsh: Is there credit for some people and not for others? Sorry, I didn’t think I’d have to explain it to you.

Davy Russell: Well I don’t know anything about that, I don’t work for any sales company.”

Ruby Walsh: Well I think that’s a huge issue (the sales)

Davy Russell: When I go to the sales, I buy the horses that I buy and other people do their business. At the end of the day, they’re keeping the whole wheel moving. If that’s the deal they’ve done. More power to them…But you seem to know more about it…

Ruby Walsh: I don’t, I just don’t think they’re all playing off the same pitch.

There were more little jibes about breeding horses and battles gone by woven in throughout. But it all ended in a hug as Ruby congratulated Russell on his recent retirement.

“He got the send off he deserved,” said Ruby of Davy’s retirement.

“That’s all that matters.”

That retirement sets him up for a career on the punditry panel. If it’s more of this pair together, then bring it on.

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