After becoming a professional jockey in his native Ireland, Robert “Robbie” Walsh cast his fortunes in America and has had an outstanding career as a steeplechase jockey.
Over an American career that began in 2002, he has ridden nearly 100 winners over fences, and he ranks among the top 20 jockeys all-time by purse earnings. In all, his mounts have earned $3,256,888.
He was the regular rider of an Eclipse Award winner, 2014 champion Demonstrative, and ranked second by purse earnings that year with $544,075. He also had a notable year in 2013, when he ranked fourth by purses with $405,018.
Walsh, born April 2, 1976, began his career in Ireland, where he rode his first winner aboard Our Weathercock in 1998. He had another 39 winners in Ireland, on the flat and over fences, before he came to the United States in 2002 and won his first National Steeplechase Association race at the Willowdale Steeplechase aboard Hero’s Tour for trainer Ricky Hendriks.
Still carrying a five-pound apprentice weight allowance, he won one other race that year, also for Hendriks, but he was beginning to attract attention as the season ended. The following year, he doubled his number of winners, and his mounts earned more than $100,000.
His third American season in 2004 saw continued improvement, with nine wins, and he scored a career-high 15 victories over fences in 2005. He had 100 mounts that season, also a high for his career, and his mounts earned $317,215.
He again rode double-digit winners with 12 in 2009, and he had 10 winners in 2011. By then, he had begun his second career as a professional exercise rider and was riding steeplechase races largely on the weekends.
One of his principal patrons was Richard Valentine, who put him aboard Demonstrative for the first time in 2011 to begin a long and productive relationship. “Demonstrative was the best steeplechase horse I’ve ever ridden,” Walsh said. “It was an honor to have the opportunity to ride a horse of his caliber.”
A big, strong, attractive gelding who was bred in America and purchased by Valentine for owner Jacqueline Ohrstrom after beginning his racing career on the flat in England, Demonstrative learned many of his race lessons from Walsh.
“He was very aggressive early in his career, and as he matured and settled more in his races he was able to produce the form that made him the best steeplechase horse in the United States,” Walsh said. “What made him so special was how effortlessly he traveled and jumped in his races.”
Until Demonstrative’s retirement in 2016, he and Walsh were partners in 26 races, and their efforts resulted in the better part of Demonstrative’s career earnings, which totaled $940,300, the fourth-highest of any American steeplechase horse.
They went on a notable winning streak in 2014, when Demonstrative won three consecutive Grade 1 races to seal his championship. With Walsh in the saddle, Demonstrative won Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap, Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap, and Far Hills Races’ Grand National. In each race, they defeated top-level competitors.
Also for Valentine, Walsh was the regular rider of Clarke Ohrstrom’s Kisser N Run, the champion female over fences in 2013. She claimed the title with back-to-back victories in Far Hills’ Peapack Stakes and the Steeplechase at Callaway’s Crown Royal Stakes.
In addition to his riding accomplishments, Walsh has developed new talents as a National Steeplechase Association starter; he brings the skills and experience of a seasoned, successful jockey to a very important official position.
His skills and insights also were important to the National Steeplechase Association’s Safety Committee, on which he served as one of the original members in 2012.