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Minor honours for Davy Russell on Downpatrick comeback

Davy Russell had to make do with minor honours on his long-awaited return to action at Downpatrick.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider had been sidelined since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick last October aboard Doctor Duffy.

The 42-year-old had initially hoped to return in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March, but ultimately lost his race against time to be fit for the showpiece meeting, and ended up being out of action for just over 11 months.

Hopes were high that Russell could make a winning comeback aboard Gordon Elliott’s 7-4 favourite The Greek in Downpatrick’s opening Bill McIlroy Bookmaker Maiden Hurdle, but he had to settle for the runner-up spot behind Henry de Bromhead’s 15-length winner Serenity Grove.

“Yes, it’s great (buzz) and fantastic to be back,” the jockey said afterwards.

“I’ve had a lot of success here and I enjoy coming here – the crowd are very good to me.”

Russell looked likely to go one better on his only other ride of the day, after guiding the Elliott-trained The Abbey to the lead on the run to the second fence from home in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.

But while the 11-2 chance jumped the final obstacle in front, he was eventually reeled in by stablemate Hurricane Georgie and 5lb claimer Jordan Gainford.

Eliott said: “I’d say the weight kicked in up the hill (on The Abbey).

“Jordan gave the winner a nice ride, and she jumped well. That was great.

“She was solid over hurdles, but this race was made for her because she was getting all the allowances.”

Elliott completed a double when Top Bandit duly landed the odds in the Franco Hughes Bookmaker INH Flat Race.

Top amateur Jamie Codd steered the 2-7 shot to a smooth five-length victory over Mary Meehan, after pulling clear in the final two furlongs.

“He’s a grand horse and he will go jumping hurdles straightaway,” said Elliott.

“We couldn’t believe he hadn’t won a bumper before now.”

On his double, he added: “I love coming here, they are good people. I have been coming here since I was 14 or 15 years of age. It’s brilliant.”

Russell will head to Navan on Saturday to ride Chemical Energy, and Coach Carter is then his sole ride on the opening afternoon of the Harvest Festival at Listowel on Sunday.

Davy Russell excited to be returning to the saddle after 11-month absence

Davy Russell is relishing a return to competitive action at Downpatrick on Friday after 11 months on the sidelines with injury.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider has not been seen in the saddle since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick in October aboard Doctor Duffy.

The 42-year-old had hoped to return in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March, but ultimately lost his race against time to be fit for the showpiece meeting, while he also decided against a comeback at Punchestown the following month.

Davy Russell aboard dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll
Davy Russell aboard dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll (Mike Egerton/PA)

Having given himself plenty of time to recover, Russell makes his comeback aboard Gordon Elliott’s The Greek in Friday’s opener in Northern Ireland, before partnering his stablemate The Abbey later in the afternoon.

He said: “It’s been delayed a couple of times so it’s great to get there. I feel great.”

Speaking on RTE Radio’s ‘Game On’ programme, Russell admitted the early stages of his recovery were difficult, but insists he never gave up hope of returning to the saddle.

“I just had to accept that I had a serious injury and that it was all about recovering and trying to get back,” he added.

“I found it hard at the start when I couldn’t drive and had to walk everywhere. Then I started cycling. I was trying to do as much exercise as I could because I didn’t want to let my weight go up too much.

“I had a body cast and a neck cast and couldn’t see behind me. It was a relief to get the cast and neck brace off.

“It was a challenge, but there was always light at the end of the tunnel.

“Once the operation went well and the recovery went well, I was always happy I was going to get there.

“I love winning. That’s the one thing I missed. That feeling when you cross the line is irreplaceable really.”

Russell is back during the same week Elliott returned from suspension.

Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell have formed a formidable partnership
Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell have formed a formidable partnership (Brian Lawless/PA)

Elliott was banned for 12 months, with half of that punishment suspended, after an image of him sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media in March.

Russell is looking forward to renewing the partnership, saying: “Myself and Gordon work really well together. When he is going I’m a better jockey, so I’m really looking forward to getting back in there.

“His ability to train horses is not in question and he doesn’t have to start at the very bottom where he had done in the past.

“I’d be quite confident he can get back to the level where he left off. He still has a lot of very good owners with him and a lot of nice horses.

“I’ll be treating him the same and a normal human being that understands life in general would treat him the same.”

Davy Russell returns at Downpatrick

Davy Russell returns to the saddle at Downpatrick on Friday after 11 months on the sidelines with a neck injury.

The dual Grand National-winning jockey has been out of action since a fall from Doctor Duffy at the first fence of the Munster National at Limerick last October.

He initially hoped to be back for Cheltenham and then Aintree in the spring.

Once he had missed all the big Festivals, Russell was determined not to rush back and instead made sure he was 100 per cent recovered before targeting a return to action.

The day will finally arrive on Friday, when he teams up twice with his old friend and ally Gordon Elliott.

He will ride The Greek in the Bill McIlroy Bookmaker Maiden Hurdle and later on the card partners The Abbey in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.

Davy Russell aiming for Downpatrick comeback next week

Davy Russell is set to return to race riding at Downpatrick next week after almost a year out of the saddle because of a serious neck injury.

The dual Grand National-winning jockey has been on the sidelines since his fall from Doctor Duffy at Limerick last October.

Russell initially set himself a new-year target to ride again. But that first deadline passed, and his hopes of being back in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March also proved in vain.

The three-time Irish champion, and 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, will be back instead next Friday.

He wrote in his blog for bookmakers Star Sports: “After fast approaching 11 months, I’m delighted to tell you that I’m pencilled in for a return to race-riding next Friday September 17 at Downpatrick – and then again at Navan the next day.”

His return comes in the same week as that of trainer Gordon Elliott, who is free to race horses again after serving his six-month suspension.

Russell said: “I’ve talked things through with Gordon, and I can virtually tell you the horses (I will be riding at Downpatrick) – but I won’t at this stage.

“I guess the key is for a bit of rain to fall and then we are all systems go.

“It’s exciting … I’m going to take things steady, and there is no set plan on how many I will ride each day or each week.

“If Gordon wants me to ride one, I’ll ride it all right – if he offers me five or six, that’s no bother either.

“The key is simply being ready to go, and that’s where I am at now. I promised myself I’d give it as long as it takes, because I didn’t want to come back and not be at my best.

“I pushed really hard to get back for Cheltenham back in March, but it was just too soon.”

Russell has enjoyed family time – and an unscheduled break in the regime of watching his weight and maintaining race-riding fitness – but is confident he is ready to resume his career.

The 42-year-old added: “It was last October I took that crashing fall from Doctor Duffy in Limerick – and it’s been a long road back.

“When you get to my age you have to be 100 per cent ready to return, and that’s why I’ve sat on the sidelines for so long.

“As for my fitness levels, I’m not a great runner after taking so many knocks over the years, so have been concentrating on riding out here at home and in Gordon’s (yard in County Meath).

“I’ve worked really hard at that over the last few months, and feel great.”

Russell added the prospect of again riding his fellow dual National hero Tiger Roll is a major incentive.

He said: “It’s a bit early for some of the classier horses to be back in training in Gordon’s, but it was great to see Tiger Roll back in and in terrific form.

“He’s such a legend of a horse, and it’s horses like him that make you stop eating ice cream!”

Darragh O’Keeffe enjoys Ulster National success

Darragh O’Keeffe celebrated his 21st birthday in fitting fashion with a smooth success on Fag An Bealach in the Randox Ulster National Handicap Chase at Downpatrick.

O’Keeffe, who won the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown on A Plus Tard in December, brought Arthur Moore’s seven-year-old with a well-timed challenge to land the extended three-and-a-half-mile stamina test.

Dream Conti made most of the running, accompanied by the 14-year-old Kruzhlinin, but it was all change at the business end as Fag An Bealach (17-2) loomed menacingly to make his bid.

Leading at the final fence, Fag An Bealach powered up the hill to land the spoils by nine lengths from Flinck (50-1). Askann was a length and a quarter away in third place, with Er Dancer fourth.

Moore said: “I’m delighted for the Beresfords and Athene Keatinge as they have been very loyal supporters all along.

“I was sort of half-keeping her for the three-mile novice handicap in Navan as a step up to three (miles) and she didn’t get into that – we are probably lucky she didn’t because this race suited her very well. The ground was perfect for her.

“This was her first time over further than two and a half. Her dam is a half-sister to Niche Market, an Irish National winner, so there was no reason why she wouldn’t stay. She got in by the skin of her teeth.

“She still hasn’t won her hurdle race! This is a great day – I rode the winner in my time and previously trained the winner. I rode the winner for Willie Rooney, the grandfather of my son-in-law.

“You wouldn’t know what she would do as she is only a seven-year-old, so it is all in front of her.”