When he announced his immediate retirement from racing after a low-key winner at Thurles on December 18, there was a sense of disappointment that Davy Russell wouldn’t get the send-off his stellar career warrants.
A two-time Grand National winner, Cheltenham Gold cup victor and three-time Irish champion jockey, Russell’s achievements on the track speak for themselves. And as a rider regarded as one of the nicest on the circuit, the Irishman has acted as a mentor for many up-and-coming jockeys in years gone by.
However, cometh the hour, cometh the man. Russell has confirmed that he will make a temporary return from retirement in order to ride for his old friend Gordon Elliott, whose number one saddlesmith Jack Kennedy has suffered a devastating broken leg in a fall at Naas.
Kennedy was leading the way in the Irish champion jockey’s standings at the time of his injury, claiming 18 more winners than nearest rival Paul Townend.
At least Elliott has a safe pair of hands waiting in the wings in Russell, with the 43-year-old booked to ride a double-header on Irish soil at Fairyhouse and Punchestown this weekend.
“We are a close team in Cullentra and after what happened last weekend, I want to help the team through a difficult few weeks,” Russell said.
“It’s only been a matter of weeks since I retired, and I actually rode more out this morning than I have in many years.”
With around eight weeks until the start of the Cheltenham Festival, it remains to be seen if Kennedy will have time to recover for the Prestbury Park showpiece.
If he doesn’t, perhaps Russell will get the swansong his career deserves – even if the quietly-spoken Irishman wouldn’t want such a fuss to be made.
Elliott will have some thinking to do in the weeks ahead, because while he may be missing his premier jockey, he will still head to Cheltenham with a yard full of winning potential.
Conflated, who would normally have Kennedy in the saddle, is expected to challenge for the Gold Cup after a thrilling victory in the Savills Chase over the festive period.
Teahupoo, who brought an end to Honeysuckle’s lengthy unbeaten run, is another Elliott-Kennedy horse that should feature prominently at the Festival, as is Mighty Potter, the ante-post favourite for the Turners Novices’ Chase.
Others of interest in the Cullentra camp include Gerri Colombe, Irish Point and Favori De Champdou, and they will form the backbone of Elliott’s bid to topple Willie Mullins at the top of the champion trainer standings at the March meeting. The Closutton handler once again led the way in 2022.
Perhaps Elliott has an ace up his sleeve in Russell, who at the time of his retirement was the most successful active Cheltenham Festival jockey around with 25 victories to his name, including his triumph aboard Lord Windermere in the 2014 Gold Cup.
A former leading jockey at the Festival, Russell compiled the excellent record of having at least one winner at Prestbury Park every year between 2006 and 2020 (bar 2009), and so Elliott’s charges will be in the safest of hands if the trainer can convince his old mucker to give it one last go in the saddle.