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Cheltenham Festival: Davy Russell profile

Davy Russell is very much in the twilight of his career, fresh from near-retirement in December, and it looks as though there may well be a Cheltenham farewell for the popular Irishman.

As recently as December, Russell called time on his career in the saddle after a winner at Thurles and, in doing so, a generational door seemingly closed for jumps fans.

The top rider for powerhouse trainer Gordon Elliott, the 43-year-old Youghal native was lured out of retirement in January after his successor, Jack Kennedy, sustained an injury that has him sidelined for a couple of months.

If Kennedy cannot regain his fitness in time for 14th March, it means all-time Cheltenham great Russell will get a Cotswolds swansong and few would deny him that.

Russell is 8/1 to be Top Jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, with Nico De Boinville 7/1 and Paul Townend 1/5.

WhatCheltenham Festival 2023
WhereCheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire
WhenTuesday 14th March - Friday 17th March, 2023
How to watchbet365 Sports Live Streaming, ITV & Racing TV

A bastion of a great generation

Russell's riding career coincided with a generation of special talents in the weighing room.

Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy, Barry Geraghty, Paul Carberry and Richard Johnson were amongst his peers and, on that December afternoon at Thurles when Russell called time after partnering the mare Liberty Dance to victory, it appeared that a glorious chapter for National Hunt racing was closing.

With Russell, there was always a sense that the bigger the occasion and the greater the obstacle, the more he enjoyed the challenge.

Nowhere was that more in evidence than at the Cheltenham Festival, as Elliott suggested that Russell "came to life on the big days" in a homage to a man who rode a winner at every Cheltenham Festival from 2006-2018 - a remarkable streak.

At one stage from 2014 into 2015, the remarkable Russell actually rode five winners from five consecutive rides at the meeting - a truly spectacular achievement.

Becoming Lord of the Cheltenham manor

Perhaps no winner comes to mind more when thinking of Russell in the saddle than Lord Windermere, his 2014 Gold Cup winner for trainer Jim Culloty.

There are patient rides to be admired, but on this occasion it appeared Lord Windermere wasn't as willing as the man in the saddle. He had to be cajoled along for much of the three-and-a-quarter mile journey but Russell humoured him.

They'd have been an afterthought to most onlookers, but the canny rider hunted around and got the 20/1 shot to come with a fine run up the home straight to win in a photo finish ahead of On His Own, The Giant Bolster and Silviniaco Conti.

It was vintage Russell and many in the game were left to opine that no other rider could have coaxed a win from that horse in that race.

The 2022 Irish Gold Cup winner Conflated, the beneficiary of a canny ride from the front that day from Russell, is a 10/1 shot for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory on 17th March and could potentially be Russell's farewell ride in the Blue Riband.

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Forever synonymous with the Tiger

Through their back-to-back wins in the Grand National at Aintree in 2018 and 2019, Tiger Roll and Russell became household names to a whole new audience outside of racing's bubble.

They were front and back page news and made a feel-good factor for their sport. The Gigginstown House Stud-owned Tiger Roll was a five-time Cheltenham Festival winner too, though only his Triumph Hurdle win in 2014 came under Russell's steer.

Tiger Roll will be the horse most associated with the career of Russell, of that there can be no doubt.

It seemed almost fitting therefore when it appeared that a mere nine months would span between their respective retirements in December.

Russell was on board Tiger Roll when they met with an agonising final defeat at the Cheltenham Festival last spring, seemingly destined for one more glorious victory amid a deluge of rain.

It came to pass that the rain was the Tiger's undoing, as his stablemate Delta Work under Kennedy foiled the dream finish very late on.

Come 15th March, it could be Russell on 11/10 Delta Work in the Cross Country - a year on, might he provide the final Festival winner for this top-class pilot? It would be the second time they have won together at Cheltenham in March if it happens.

One last Cheltenham foray

Russell announced himself on the Cheltenham Festival stage when taking the Cross Country Chase aboard the Philip Rothwell-trained Native Jack all the way back in 2006. Now, 17 years on, he's seemingly heading into one final trip to this famous part of Gloucestershire in mid-March.

Back-to-back wins for Presenting Percy in 2017/2018, three successive wins in the Pertemps Final - one of the toughest handicaps to crack - from 2016-2018, and wins on the likes of Envoi Allen and Samcro as star novices' with lots of pressure on his shoulders formed part of the Russell Cheltenham Festival legend.

In December, he said: "There was no point in everybody wondering why I'm not retired, I'd rather them wondering 'why is he retiring?'. The one thing I do love about it is that I never lost my bottle - that was the most important part of it."

Now, we know he's ready to retire, but all eyes will on the Russell come Cheltenham.

He's 8/1 to be Top Jockey at the meeting - an honour he earned once before in 2018 - and it wouldn't be too clever to write off the three-time Irish champion jockey from pulling it off and then hanging up his boots - only this time for good!

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