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.