Posts

Russell to miss Cheltenham Festival

Leading jockey Davy Russell will miss next month’s Cheltenham Festival after failing to sufficiently recover from injury in time.

Russell – who won the Gold Cup aboard Lord Windermere in 2014 – has been on the sidelines since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick in October aboard Doctor Duffy.

Having returned to riding out after the turn of the year, the 41-year-old was last week optimistic he would be back in competitive action in time to ride at the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds.

Envoi Allen and Davy Russell on their way to winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Envoi Allen and Davy Russell on their way to winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival (PA)

However, Russell confirmed in a statement on Thursday that he will not be riding at the Festival – where his big-race mounts were set to include the brilliant Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Russell said: “I met with my surgeon earlier today – and although he is delighted with the progress I have made, he feels that I’m not quite where I should be in order to ride at Cheltenham next month.

“It is frustrating as I feel I have made giant strides in recent weeks on the road to recovery. However, after talking through things with (trainer) Gordon (Elliott), we both feel it sensible for me to follow advice and miss Cheltenham, as it is only weeks away.

“To ride horses of the calibre of Envoi Allen you have to be 100 per cent fit, and I would be doing the team a disservice to ride when I’m not ready. Obviously, it is hugely disappointing, but it is important to make the call early.

“I will continue to work hard on my recovery and look forward to getting back in the saddle the following month.

“I remain so grateful for all the extraordinary medical attention I have received, and thank you for all your lovely messages of support.”

Russell upbeat on prospect of Festival return after injury

Davy Russell remains confident he will return to competitive action in time to ride at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

Russell – who won the Gold Cup aboard Lord Windermere in 2014 – has been on the sidelines since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick in October aboard Doctor Duffy.

Having returned to riding out last month, the 41-year-old is keen to get back on the racecourse before the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds, which starts four weeks on Tuesday.

Russell said on Friday: “It’s progressing well. I went to see a specialist today and had a bit of physio – and everything is good.

“I’m waiting on a report on a scan, and it will probably be next week before I can put a date on it, but it’s all looking good.”

Asked whether he was hoping to get in some match practice before the Festival, he added: “That’s exactly it. Hopefully I can get back a week or two beforehand.”

Having been stuck at home for most of the season, Russell was delighted to be back on a racecourse for last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Davy Russell was a winner on Envoi Allen at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Davy Russell was a winner on Envoi Allen at last year’s Cheltenham Festival (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Watching the pulsating action live only whetted his appetitive further to get back in the saddle, though.

He added: “It was unbelievable – there was some marvellous racing. It was a helluva weekend.

“I think the novice hurdles in particular were very strong, and you had horses in them that could go different directions.

“There were a lot of competitive races, and I would think there’ll be plenty of winners to come out of them.”

Davy Russell delighted to be back in the saddle following neck injury

Davy Russell rode out on Tuesday for the first time since suffering an injury at Limerick in October.

The former champion jockey fractured two vertebrae in his neck and dislocated another when Doctor Duffy fell at the first in the Munster National.

Russell was in a neck brace for months, but recently had that removed and took another important step in his recovery at Gordon Elliott’s yard.

Riding Presenting Percy, among others, the Grand National-winning pilot was delighted to be back in the saddle, but is refusing to set a comeback date.

With Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown on the horizon, however, he has plenty to aim for.

“I was certainly happy to be back out and there were no dramas,” said Russell.

“I rode a couple of nice horses this morning and it was a nice feeling.

“It’s exciting to be honest, but I still haven’t set a target to be back – I need to go back to the doctor and go through all that.

“The toughest part is still ahead of me really, I need to get fit and lose some weight! Getting race-fit is the most important thing, but hopefully I can crack on now.”

Russell hopes to be back on horseback next week

Davy Russell hopes to be back on horseback next week as he steps up his recovery from the serious injuries he suffered in a fall in October.

Ireland’s three-time champion jockey has been on the sidelines since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick aboard Doctor Duffy.

As well as damaging his C6 and C7 vertebrae, the 41-year-old dislocated his T1, meaning he needed traction to get everything back into its rightful place.

Russell, who was on board for both of Tiger Roll’s Grand National wins, has recently had his neck brace removed – and while a return to competitive action still appears some way off, he is hoping to get back to work in the coming days.

He said: “It won’t happen this week now, but I’m hoping to be back on a horse next week.

“I’ve all the gear off now. It was hard work and uncomfortable, but that’s the way it is.

“Hopefully I’ll pop up to Gordon’s (Elliott) next week and we’ll see how we go.

“We’re a long way away from that (returning to race-riding). It (the injury) is working fine on the ground, but it has to be working properly on a horse before we look too far ahead.”

Davy Russell in good heart as recovery from injury continues

Davy Russell hopes to have a better idea of when he can expect to return to action when he has further X-rays on his injuries later this month.

Russell has been on the sidelines since October when dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick aboard Doctor Duffy.

The three-times champion jockey damaged his C6 and C7 vertebrae and dislocated his T1 meaning he needed traction to get everything back into its rightful place.

Russell, who was on board for both of Tiger Roll’s Grand National wins, is currently in a neck brace and returns to hospital on December 17 when he hopes to be given some positive news.

Jockey Davy Russell after Tiger Roll's second Grand National win
Jockey Davy Russell after Tiger Roll’s second Grand National win (Mike Egerton/PA)
Your first 30 days for just £1

“I’m getting on fine, I’m in very little pain, I have good movement and I’m doing as much exercise as I’m allowed,” said Russell, speaking at an event to promote the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.

“I’m heading back on December 17 to get more X-rays and to see how it’s all going and to see what sort of date we are looking at.

“It’s all the hands of the doctors. They’ll fill me in on how my progress is going, but it is all going according to plan, touch wood. The fusion of my vertebrae has worked well but I’ve no set date to work towards, I just get checked every couple of weeks to check everything is where it’s supposed to be.”

He added: “This will be a strange Christmas, it’s the first one I won’t be riding at in all the years I’ve been riding, I’ve never missed it yet. I’ll be watching it on television so it will be very different.”

Envoi Allen has been electric in two runs over fences to date
Envoi Allen has been electric in two runs over fences to date (PA Wire)

Russell, who has missed the first two runs of Envoi Allen’s chasing career, at least has the prospect of riding the budding superstar to look forward to on his return.

“I didn’t feel a twinge of regret at not riding him, quite the opposite actually, he sent a shiver down my spine,” said Russell.

“I got goosebumps watching him. He’s something else. I’d have given anything to be on his back.

“If I’d been suspended or something my stomach would have been churning, but in our game injuries come. Fingers crossed I’ll be back on him before too long.

“I’m a racing fan as much as anything and I really enjoyed watching him. He was breathtaking.”

Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy on sidelines with injury

Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy will both be sidelined for “a number of weeks” after suffering injury at Limerick on Sunday.

Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning jockey Russell was taken to hospital for precautionary X-rays on a suspected shoulder injury after a heavy fall from Doctor Duffy at the first fence in the Munster National.

However, his injuries turned out to be more severe.

Kennedy, who only recently returned from a broken leg suffered at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in February, fell three flights from home when partnering Etincelle Lioterie in the opening Listed novice hurdle.

An update from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s senior medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh posted on Twitter read: “Davy Russell sustained a neck injury and has a fracture of his C6 vertebrae. Jack Kennedy fractured his left collarbone.

“Unfortunately they will both be out for a number of weeks.”

Both riders are used regularly by Gordon Elliott, who hopes Kennedy could return to action in time to ride at Down Royal’s high-profile two-day meeting at the end of the month.

“Davy is having an operation tomorrow (Tuesday),” the trainer said.

“Jack has got a hairline fracture of an old fracture and he has to go back to the doctor on Tuesday week.

“We’ll know then where we are and we’ll be pushing to try to get him back for Down Royal.”

Jump Jockeys: How Are The Mighty Fallen?

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!

- Samuel, 1:25

Perhaps more so than the terrific performances at Cheltenham this past weekend, or the death of National Hunt benefactor Alan Potts, jump racing's headlines have been hogged in recent days not by horses or owners, nor even trainers; but, rather, by the riders.

First Paddy Brennan was sensationally 'jocked off' Cue Card, sweetheart of so many fans of the winter game, after a tumble too many; then Sam Twiston-Davies broke his elbow in a fall at Sandown before, this past Saturday, Ruby Walsh broke his leg in what was, remarkably, his third fall of the afternoon.

It is of course the very essence of the National Hunt jockeys' existence to face down danger between ten and twenty - and as many as 32 - times per race. In that context, falls are a natural by-product of race outcomes. But what is a reasonable rate for a rider to become separated from his or her equine partner?

Let the data speak.

 

Fall/Unseat Rates: The Five Year Macro Data

Below are the faller rates for the last five years in UK/Irish chases by a number of the top jockeys, one notably since retired. To be clear, this is for steeplechase falls and unseats (FU's) only, and the table is sorted by number of rides.

 

Jockey Rides FU's FU %
R Johnson 1552 88 5.67%
S Twiston-Davies 1484 93 6.27%
N Fehily 1003 59 5.88%
P Brennan 999 56 5.61%
D Russell 800 57 7.13%
B Geraghty 740 40 5.41%
AP McCoy 724 41 5.66%
R Walsh 651 53 8.14%
J Kennedy 258 24 9.30%

 

To add more global context to this subset of superstars, the average fall/unseat rate in the last 10,000 starters in UK and Irish chases has been 6.59%. Solely in Irish chases, the last 10,000 starters there fell or unseated at a rate of 7.84%, presumably because of the heavier turf on which they predominantly race (a subject for another, wetter, day). It may then be fair to say that anything lower than that is outperforming the average, and anything higher than that is under-performing against the average.

But not all chase rides are 'average'. The likes of Ruby Walsh and Jack Kennedy are more frequently engaged in the kind of skirmishes for victory which may demand firing a horse at the last, or an earlier fence, in a more aggressive fashion than, say, a rider popping round for fourth place.

If that is to mitigate, the disparities in the table cannot be so simply swept from view.

Your first 30 days for just £1

We can see i the table that, on a large number of rides, many of them with winning chances, Richard Johnson, Sam Twiston-Davies and Noel Fehily have all kept their fall/unseat rate below 6.5%. So too have Paddy Brennan, Barry Geraghty, and the now retired Tony McCoy.

But across the Irish Sea, look at Davy Russell, who leads the Irish jumps championship this term, and his hitherto closest pursuer, Ruby Walsh. Note also Jack Kennedy, number one jockey at Gordon Elliott's powerfully ascendant yard.

Russell's tumble rate of 7.13% is on the high side compared with Britain, but not wildly out of kilter with the pan-national average and in the green zone against his domestic peer group. The same cannot be said of Jack and Ruby. Although the former is young and arguably still learning his trade - arguably because he's had many more rides than plenty of jockeys five years his senior - the latter especially looks a surprisingly precarious pilot. Now, before the hate mail starts, obviously I recognise that Ruby Walsh is one of the great jockeys of our time and that this is but one barometer of a jockey's ability.

But, all the same, if I want to bet at a short price - and his rides are almost exclusively offered at prohibitive odds - I need to know that I have to factor a higher than average likelihood of my selection not passing the post in a chase with the rider on its back. With Jack Kennedy, he's almost 20% more likely to be dumped on the turf than the Irish average.

Let me be clear again: this is not about Ruby or Jack or anyone else. I'm far too selfish for that. No, this is about me as a punter knowing what I'm up against. About being forewarned and, therefore, forearmed.

 

Fall/Unseat Rates: The One Year Snapshot

Five years is a long time and it makes for some statistically significant (in the context of racing's generally small samples at least) inferences. But how do we compare jockeys with themselves? One way is to look at a snapshot - a subset - of the overall dataset. For punting purposes, the most current subset seems the most sensible. Below then are the last twelve months for the same jockey grouping, again sorted by number of rides.

 

Jockey Rides FU's FU %
R Johnson 301 20 6.64%
S Twiston-Davies 300 16 5.33%
D Russell 210 9 4.29%
N Fehily 206 12 5.83%
P Brennan 182 7 3.85%
R Walsh 124 13 10.48%
J Kennedy 123 12 9.76%
B Geraghty 105 9 8.57%
AP McCoy NA NA NA

 

Whilst even more care needs to be taken not to make bold claims on the basis of flimsy sample sizes, there remain elephants in the room.

First, let's look at Paddy Brennan, recently relieved of his supporting role atop the gorgeous Cue Card. His 3.85% fall/unseat rate in the past year is comfortably the lowest in the group and almost 1.5 times better than his five year average. Was he thus unlucky to lose such a coveted ride? That depends entirely on whether you're a macro sort of guy or you have the nuanced eye to make decisions based on the specifics of a handful of rides. I certainly don't consider myself qualified in the latter context and can see arguments for and against the rider switch.

The British Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson, has seen his tumble rate increase in the past twelve months, though possibly not materially. It has crept above the 10,000 runner average of 6.59% by a tiny margin: Johnson's renewed appetite to forage for every ride will have introduced a greater element of quantity over quality to his diet and the variance may perhaps be explained in such a way.

Noel Fehily has been remarkably consistent while Sam Twiston-Davies, who amazingly (to me at least, he seems to have been around for a long time) has only just turned 25, has retained his partnerships on a notably more frequent basis according to the most recent evidence. Tough luck then to break his elbow earlier this month; he actually rode in a subsequent race, attesting to the no-safety-net trapeze swing between heroism and stupidity that many in the weighing room unquestioningly fling themselves.

Meanwhile, Ireland's champion jockey-elect, Davy Russell, is 27 winners clear of his nearest challenger if one excludes the sidelined Walsh from calculations. Russell is approaching veteran status, though still in his late thirties, and has courted controversy this year in the manner with which he attempted to correct a recalcitrant mount. That episode deserves no more than a footnote in a piece the focus of which is elsewhere, and it will indeed be a shame if a man shunned by his major employer less than four years ago does not receive the praise he deserves if/when winning the jockeys' championship. Fair play to him.

To the elephant or, more precisely, the trio of elephants, in the room. Barry Geraghty first. He is one of the best jockeys I've seen and, in his time at Nicky Henderson's, was a man never to be dismissed. But, since taking the green and gold coin of Team JP, misfortune has followed him like a very bad smell. Since last July, he has broken both arms, in separate incidents; cracked a rib and collapsed a lung on another occasion; and recently (late August) fractured a shoulder blade. You have to be tough to be a jump jockey - far tougher than to look at numbers and write words about the subject - but my admiration starts to wane when riders persist in the face of mounting fragility.

It's no more my place to suggest to a rider about when to retire as it is for a rider to enquire on the number of winners I've ridden. So I won't. All I'll say is that I imagine the partners and families of jump jockeys rejoice the news of their loved one's cessation of getting legged up in a similar vein to that of the partners and families of professional boxers on hearing of gloves being hung for the final time. And I sincerely hope BJG has a long, uninterrupted and fruitful spell between now and whenever he pursues alternative employment.

Yet still we've to address the figureheads of Closutton and Cullentra, Ruby and Jack. In the last twelve months, Kennedy has come unstuck a dozen times from 123 chase starts. That's as near to ten per cent, and as near to 25% above the Irish average, as doesn't matter. Walsh has fallen or unseated once more than Kennedy, from one more ride, in the same period, a ratio above 10% and almost 33% greater than the norm.

It seems churlish to kick a man when he's down - Ruby faces a race against time to be back for the Cheltenham Festival and, like all fans of the sport, I hope he makes it - so I'll let those data speak for themselves. All I will add is that, to my eye - and keep in mind I've never ridden a winner - Ruby takes too many chances with fatigued animals late in races. Mounting (or, cynically, dismounting) evidence seems to support that.

The pressure in the Elliott and Mullins camps must be enormous, not just from the trainers, but from owners, other jockeys in the yard and, increasingly, the omnipresence of (social) media. Much of the latter is unworthy of attention, but when you're accustomed to being told how good you are, the sharper brickbats probably leave a weal.

 

Final Thoughts

There is an inherent selection bias in the tables above. Each of the jockeys therein has earned his place by being at the top of his peer group; such elevation comes only from taking chances when they're presented, and occasionally fashioning them when they may not absolutely be there.

As sports gigs go, riding 600kg animals over five foot fences (apologies for mixed metric-phors) around fifteen times per race on average is down there with the worst of 'em. It would never be for a wuss like me. Although not big on machismo either, I have a robust respect for these turf-eating gladiators as a collective.

But when the wallet comes out, they are individuals. And I want to know which individuals will support my bottom line, in the same way that these jocks want to know which horses will provide the winners to propel them up the championship table. It's every man (and woman) for themselves. Nobody is more or less selfish than the next, either in the punting or riding ranks; and nor should they be.

To that end, the frailties of otherwise tremendous jockeys with enormous (and, in the main, well deserved and hard earned) reputations are power to the contrarian punters' elbow.

Ruby has won aboard 30% of the chasers he's ridden in the last five years. That's open water clear of the next best (McCoy 22%, Daryl Jacob and Noel Fehily 20%, Sam T-D and Paddy B 19%, Richard Johnson 18%). But, from a punting perspective, his negative ROI of 18.86% at SP during that time is surpassed by absolutely nobody in his Premier League peer group. Some of that, of course, relates to his stable's form with chasers, most of it to the over-exposure of the Mullins/Walsh/Ricci PR machine; that's neither here nor there in terms of wagering.

Meanwhile, on the flip side, the unfashionable Paddy Brennan not only wins at a 19% clip, he's also secured a profit of almost 60 points at SP in the same time frame, regardless of the Cue Card fallout.

Backing horses is not a beauty contest, nor is it about fashion. On the contrary, the value lies wherever the spotlight doesn't. And, even in the halogen glare of the media beam, punting pearls are left for those with peripheral vision. Always be asking questions, take nothing on trust. The data is here. Use it. It rarely lies.

I genuinely hope Ruby gets back in time for the Festival, and I further hope he has a fantastic time of it. But I'll not be touching his chase mounts there, or pretty much anywhere else. That's unlikely to trouble him, of course. Devil take the hindmost!

Matt