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.
GRIPPING: The Storyteller, Davy Russell up, after jumping the last on their way to winning The Growise Champion Novice Steeplechase at Punchestown.
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.
Tiger Roll winning jockey Davy Russell and trainer Gordon Elliott with the Grand National trophy.
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.
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.