Win­ning ways

Irish Examiner - County - - Front page - Jor­dan McCarthy

Davy Rus­sell was crowned cham­pion jockey at Punchestown at the week­end, as the sea­son of all sea­sons draws to a close.

DAVY RUS­SELL was crowned cham­pion jockey at Punchestown at the week­end, as the sea­son of all sea­sons draws to a close.

The 2017-18 Na­tional Hunt cam­paign has been a re­mark­able one for Rus­sell, kick-start­ing with his Gal­way Plate vic­tory aboard Balko Des Flos last Au­gust and peak­ing with his tri­umph in the world’s most iconic steeple­chase in Liv­er­pool ear­lier this month.

Some say that he is per­form­ing bet­ter than ever.

The jock­eys’ ta­ble tells a sim­i­lar story.

The Youghal na­tive is now a three­time cham­pion rider here in Ire­land, hav­ing tot­ted up over a cen­tury of win­ners for the sea­son.

It’s the fourth time that Rus­sell has rid­den more than 100 win­ners in one cam­paign – the last time that hap­pened he won a sec­ond jock­eys’ ti­tle in 2013.

Yes, he has been here be­fore, but given all that has hap­pened in be­tween ti­tles – the loss of the role as re­tained rider to Gig­gin­stown House Stud in late 2013 for in­stance – you get the sense that this one means an aw­ful lot to the 38-year-old.

‘‘Ev­ery­body wants to be cham­pion jockey – for the sim­ple rea­son that you ride more win­ners than ev­ery­body else.

“For that rea­son alone, it is bril­liant. But then it is so dif­fi­cult over here.

“For me to be cham­pion, some­thing has to hap­pen to the likes of Ruby (Walsh). Un­for­tu­nately he has had a very tough year.

‘‘At the same time, I have gone into 100 or so win­ners for the year.

“What­ever would have been, I would have made Ruby work for it at least.

“It’s great to win it for a third time. I didn’t think that I would get to win it again, to be hon­est.

“It is ex­tra spe­cial, to be able to win the cham­pi­onship now,’’ Rus­sell said.

The Cork jockey had achieved a hel­luva lot, even prior to this ex­tra­or­di­nary Jumps sea­son.

He had been a dual-cham­pion al­ready.

There was a Gold Cup vic­tory in 2014, which was one of 18 Fes­ti­val vic­to­ries be­tween 2006 and 2017.

How­ever, de­spite all of the mar­quee race vic­to­ries and achieve­ments glit­tered on his CV, Rus­sell was al­ways hope­ful, per­haps silently hope­ful, of win­ning the Ain­tree Grand Na­tional.

A lot of high-pro­file rid­ers have failed to plun­der the Liv­er­pool fea­ture, but Rus­sell man­aged to win it, at the four­teenth at­tempt, just un­der two weeks ago.

His thrilling suc­cess on-board the Gor­don El­liott-trained Tiger Roll at Ain­tree is the vic­tory that com­pletes his ca­reer – the ic­ing on the cake, the fi­nal piece of the jig­saw.

‘‘It was a great day.

“You don’t ever re­ally think you’re go­ing to win it.

“It’s spe­cial when you do. I’ve gone past the Melling Road, go­ing a lot worse, and fin­ished third.

“This year, at that stage, I felt that there was go­ing to have to be some­thing come from be­hind to beat me.

“It was (a ner­vous wait at the end). He just tired up a small bit on me.

“I was there very early and the Mullins horse (Pleas­ant Com­pany) ral­lied, which I didn’t think he would. ‘‘Tiger Roll is so brave.

“He’s un­be­liev­ably brave and he’s fierce clever. He’s lim­ited with what he gives – even with his jump­ing – and he

doesn’t kill him­self.

“He’s very eco­nom­i­cal with what he gives you. He kind of saves a bit that way.’’

Prior to the Grand Na­tional, Rus­sell man­aged to em­bel­lish his record at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val, back in March.

Hav­ing rid­den at least one win­ner at each and ev­ery Fes­ti­val, since claim­ing his first suc­cess at the pres­ti­gious meet­ing back in 2006, the east Cork pi­lot al­ready had an en­vi­able record, across those fa­mous four days in March.

He booted home a fur­ther four win­ners at the Fes­ti­val this sea­son and added an­other maiden ti­tle to his col­lec­tion, which was the lead­ing rider award at the meet­ing.

Pre­sent­ing Percy, Balko Des Flos, Delta Work and The Sto­ry­teller were the four horses part­nered to vic­tory by Rus­sell and, fol­low­ing a count­back, he was awarded the much-cov­eted prize, as he had more sec­ond-place fin­ishes than near­est ri­val, Jack Kennedy.

How­ever, the trip to Chel­tenham this year was quite dif­fer­ent for one of the Fes­ti­val’s lead­ing lights.

Although it is a meet­ing he rel­ishes, each and ev­ery sea­son, the 2018 edi­tion didn’t seem all that im­por­tant a week out.

And un­der­stand­ably so, as his Mum, Phyl­lis had sadly passed away.

It took a lot of strength – both men­tal and phys­i­cal – for Rus­sell to go and do his job.

But he did it in style – aided per­haps by some­one from above.

‘‘Mam was a great woman and a huge part of my ca­reer.

“Ba­si­cally, go­ing to the fes­ti­val, I didn’t re­ally care if I rode a win­ner.

“It’s a long way from the most se­ri­ous things in life.

“That’s not tak­ing any­thing away from the fes­ti­val – it is the most im­por­tant four days of the sea­son.

“But this is what was go­ing on in my mind.

“Then you do ride win­ners and it changes ev­ery­thing. When you get one win­ner, you’re un­der no pres­sure.

“To ride four is fan­tas­tic. I had fin­ished sec­ond in the lead­ing rider stand­ings be­fore but to add my name to it was a bit spe­cial.

‘‘I was watch­ing the Mas­ters (golf) re­cently.

“They were go­ing on about not over­think­ing things.

“A lot of the golfers go­ing into the Mas­ters think that they can’t win it.

“They are us­ing that as a pos­i­tive thing.

“To be hon­est, that is the way that I treat a lot of fes­ti­vals.

“I go there think­ing that I’m not go­ing to have a win­ner.

“Then, any­thing after that is a bonus. You kind of go there and you ride a lit­tle bit looser.

“You do things a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently and you maybe just step out­side the norm.

“That’s ex­actly how I went to Chel­tenham this year.

“Mam was a great woman and a huge part of my ca­reer

‘‘I had con­vinced my­self that the ground wasn’t go­ing to suit Pre­sent­ing Percy.

“There was no pres­sure there. Balko Des Flos was the same.

“There were a cou­ple of hand­i­caps then and they are a lottery over there.

“But then you add-in that the horses were trained by Pat Kelly, Henry De Brom­head and Gor­don El­liott – three very pro­fes­sional men – which makes my job eas­ier.’’

Rus­sell has be­come an ex­pert in bounce­back­a­bil­ity.

Re­mem­ber that word? In­vented by Iain Dowie, the ex-man­ager of Crys­tal Palace FC, and made fa­mous with the help of Soc­cer AM on Sky Sports.

Any­way, its def­i­ni­tion, in sport­ing terms, is the ca­pac­ity to re­cover quickly from a set­back.

It is a term that is tai­lor-made for Rus­sell.

Any time the Youghal man has suf­fered a neg­a­tive oc­cur­rence in his rac­ing ca­reer, he just seems to bounce back in style.

For ex­am­ple, when he lost the Gig­gin­stown job in late 2013, he went and won the Gold Cup at Chel­tenham three months later.

In fact, he had an across-the-card tre­ble that af­ter­noon.

Two of the horses were owned by Ed­die and Michael O’Leary of Gig­gin­stown House Stud.

And that is just one ex­am­ple of how this ex­cep­tional horse­man has over­come dif­fi­culty or ad­ver­sity in his ca­reer.

‘‘You never know what’s around the cor­ner – it’s all about the peo­ple you meet.

“I met Phillip Reynolds above in Kil­beg­gan for the first time and he asked me would I ride a few horses for him.

“I got two Fes­ti­val wins out of that chat.’’

Per­haps we could all learn a thing or two from the cham­pion jockey.

Pic­ture: Matt Browne/Sports­file

GRIP­PING: The Sto­ry­teller, Davy Rus­sell up, after jump­ing the last on their way to win­ning The Gro­wise Cham­pion Novice Steeple­chase at Punchestown.

Pic­ture: Healy Rac­ing

Davy Rus­sell with (L-R) John, Cian, Jack & Harry Glee­son and Luke Mur­ray after De­ci­sion Time won the Ir­ish Stal­lion Farms EBF Mares Maiden Hur­dle.

Pic­ture: Healy Rac­ing

Tiger Roll win­ning jockey Davy Rus­sell and trainer Gor­don El­liott with the Grand Na­tional tro­phy.

Pic­ture: Healy Rac­ing

Tiger Roll, Davy Rus­sell up, beats Pleas­ant Comapny, David Mullins up, by head to win the Grand Na­tional for owner Gig­gin­stown Stud and trainer Gor­don El­liott.

Pic­ture: Seb Daly/Sports­file

Pal­lasator, Davy Rus­sell up, leads Jets, Rob­bie Power up, on their way to win­ning the Un­der­writ­ing Ex­change Novice Hur­dle on Day 1 of the Fairy­house Easter Fes­ti­val.

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