Crack Irish jockey Ruby Walsh has announced that his 11-year partnership with Ditcheat trainer Paul Nicholls is to come to an end as he seeks to spend more time riding in his homeland. At 34 Walsh feels he needs to be closer to his family and has relinquished his position as Nicholls’ stable jockey, with previous number two Daryl Jacob getting the nod as his replacement.
Walsh’s move is undoubtedly motivated by the family ties that bind the Kildare pilot, but his shift back to the Emerald Isle comes hot on the heels of a year which saw all of his Cheltenham Festival winners come from the yard of Irish employer Willie Mullins’, having struck out on Nicholls-trained mounts.
Evidence that Walsh’s move highlights a plateauing of Nicholls’ dominance at the top level of the domestic jumps game is compounded by the fact that it follows the first season in eight that the handler has failed to lift the champion trainer’s title.
Where once the Nicholls-trained Kauto Star – closely followed by stablemates Denman and Master Minded – was the brightest twinkler in the National Hunt firmament, the code’s current leading lights Bobs Worth, Sprinter Sacre and Hurricane Fly are quartered at the yards of rival handlers Nicky Henderson and Mullins.
This will be unlikely to phase Jacob, who is used to riding the yard’s winners at some of the sport’s more prosaic locales.
The man who’ll be stepping up from his role as stable number two jockey may not yet be revered in the same manner as the sublimely gifted rider he’s replacing, but he has delivered the strike-rate figures and big-race wins to suggest he’ll be a more than adequate replacement as Ditcheat top dog.
Jacob actually rode more winners for Nicholls at a better win percentage than his more illustrious ex-colleague last season with 54 wins from 194 rides to Walsh’s 52 wins from 192, whilst he proved his nerve for the big time when landing the 2012 Grand National for the yard aboard Neptune Collonges.
Given that the yard’s runners took the laurels on 106 occasions during the course of the 2012/13 campaign, backing Jacob to boot in 100 or more winners in the season just started at 1/2 may be worth considering – especially given the Northern Irish pilot has started it with such relish, partnering eight winners from 23 rides for Nicholls thus far.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publication