Robbie Walsh has never been accustomed to laying low. His is the typical DNA of a steeplechase jockey –full speed ahead. But for the better part of the past year, the 42-year-old Irishman has been recovering from surgeries and rehabbing his knee and shoulder after a fall from Janet Elliot’s Alajmal at last year’s Fair Hill Races.
“Alajmal had spent the past eight years trying to get rid of me and couldn’t do it . . . and he finally got me walking to the start that day,” Walsh explained. “I tore my ACL and meniscus and the rotator cuff in my shoulder. I rode the race, but then the next morning went to work and got on a horse, and it felt like someone was stabbing me in the knee every time he moved.”
Walsh is back in the tack again at trainer Graham Motion’s Fair Hill Training Center barn, where he’s been the regular work rider for some of Motion’s most notable runners for the past seven years. Walsh was frequently aboard Kentucky Derby and Dubai Breeders’ Cup winner Animal Kingdom, accompanied multiple Grade 1-winning mare Miss Temple City to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar and was often on Ring Weekend, another Grade 1 winner still in action at age 7. In the case of dual Eclipse Champion Main Sequence, Motion put Walsh’s European background to good use.
“Robbie’s experience both in Ireland and the U.S. has been a major component with the success of our horses imported from Europe,” Motion said. “It’s a different style of training, and I’ve relied on Robbie’s knowledge and advice when developing programs for these individuals. His input has contributed to the success we’ve enjoyed at some of the most prestigious race meetings throughout the world.”
Walsh skillfully balanced his duties in Motion’s barn with his standing as one of the top steeplechase riders in the country since his career began here in 2001. In 2014, he guided Demonstrative to an Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser, winning Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga, Belmont Park and Far Hills in New Jersey. Walsh won a Grade 1 with Mabou at Saratoga in 2011, and frequently teamed up with multiple stakes winner Preemptive Strike. With Walsh aboard, the latter upset three-time champion McDynamo at The Meadowlands in 2005.
Walsh’s behind-the-scenes contributions have been every bit as noteworthy and meaningful. He founded the first steeplechase jockeys’ association in the U.S., helping retired, active and future jockeys professionally and personally. It had been a long talked-about idea; with Walsh behind it, the riders are now organized into a more cohesive unit.
When the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) created a Safety Task Force after the 2012 racing season, Walsh was the first choice to represent jockeys. While serving on the Task Force, he created new safety standards and protocols for horses and jockeys.
“During my time off with these injuries, I took up the responsibility of starter at the races with the NSA, and just served as co-race director at the 2018 Fair Hill Races,” Walsh said. “I’m looking forward to the upcoming season and getting back to competition soon.”
NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo is enthusiastic about Walsh’s involvement.
“We’re delighted to have Robbie aboard. He certainly brings a lot of experience and has actually fit right into his new role as one of our premiere starters. It’s always good to have an experienced set of eyes and hands down there on the course, and he’s very comfortable with it and knows what the job entails. He’s been a mentor to the riders and certainly commands their respect. And he has respect for them, which is one of the key things. I’m sure he’s going to be a really good starter. We plan to use him as often as possible.”