Champion Irish jumps jockey Katie Walsh is set to follow in the footsteps of her older brother, Ruby Walsh, and represent Ireland at Sportsbet-Ballarat’s inaugural two-day jumps racing festival in August. Walsh, the most successful female jockey in Aintree Grand National history, will represent the Emerald Isle in a four-race Australia-versus-Ireland challenge, and will look to emulate her brother’s 2015 Grand National Steeplechase success aboard Bashboy come the final day of the festival.
No stranger to big race success, Walsh counts victories in the 2015 BoyleSport’s Irish Grand National and Group 1 Champion INH Flat Race at Punchestown among her career highlights, and said she was honoured to receive an invitation to ride in Australia. “I can’t wait to head to Australia to fly the Irish flag at Ballarat,” Walsh said. “Ruby spoke really fondly of his experience at Ballarat last year and the passion of Australian jumps racing fans, so naturally I jumped at the opportunity to head down under. Ruby tells me that Ballarat is a good test of a horse’s stamina and a jockey’s tactical ability and I’m looking forward to the challenge. Victoria is the home of a number of incredibly talented Australian and Irish riders, so I’m really excited to have the opportunity to go head-to-head with the boys.”
Walsh will be joined on the Irish team by three Australian-based Irish riders, while Australia will be represented by four local jockeys. The riders will be selected based on the Australian Jumps Racing Jockeys Premiership as at 8 August 2016. Racing Victoria (RV) General Manager – Jumps, Paul Bloodworth, said Walsh’s participation in the series provided racing fans added incentive to head to Sportsbet-Ballarat. “Katie is one of the world’s premier jumps racing riders, so to have her in Australia riding against our best will be fantastic for Ballarat’s new jumps festival,” Bloodworth said. “Her appearance really highlights the developing internationalisation of jumps racing, which is something we are keen to foster in Victoria.”
Ballarat Turf Club (BTC) Chief Executive, Lachlan McKenzie, said he was delighted that Katie had accepted an invitation to ride in Victoria. “The Ballarat Turf Club is committed to creating a world class jumping festival and Katie’s appearance will be just one highlight across two spectacular days racing,” McKenzie said. “Ruby Walsh put last year’s Grand National Steeplechase firmly in the international spotlight and hopefully Katie gets the opportunity to do likewise this year.”
The 2016 Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) will conclude the Victorian feature jumps race season for a second year running at Sportsbet-Ballarat on 21 August, and will carry an increased prize purse of $350,000 – up from $250,000 in 2015. The two-day jumps festival will host six jumps races across Saturday 20 August and Sunday, 21 August, with the $125,000 JJ Houlahan Hurdle (3200m) to again feature alongside the Grand National Steeplechase on the final day. A new feature race called the Ballarat Marathon Hurdle (4000m) will be staged on the festival’s opening day, with the remaining flat races programmed as highweight races exclusively for jumps jockeys.