Resilience key for Youghal man Russell in epic Grand National triumph

Resilience key for Youghal man Russell in epic Grand National triumph
Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

YOUGHAL'S Davy Russell continued a glorious autumn to his career by steering Tiger Roll to a thrilling victory in the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree.

A dual Irish champion jockey, Russell's career has not been without the odd bump in the road and was famously informed he had lost the job as number one jockey for Gigginstown House Stud over a cup of tea with Michael O'Leary late in 2013.

However, his skills in the saddle have never been in doubt and just a few weeks after claiming the Leading Jockey Award at the Cheltenham Festival for the first time, the 38-year-old secured a narrow success in the world's most famous steeplechase aboard Gordon Elliott's Gigginstown-owned runner.

Russell said: "I've tried not to think about the race, to be honest. 

"I heard some golfers last week saying you could over-prepare - I'm not sure if you can do that, but I came here thinking I was just going to go down the middle and to hell with everyone else.

"This is the race. 

"As a kid, when you got the first cut of grass, we always used to gather the cuttings and pretend they were Grand National fences, it was the only time I liked collecting the cuttings, but all those people saying this is my first National - I've won it thousands of times in my head!

"As a jockey this is the one you want to win, especially for someone like me having 14 goes. 

"On the way down the commentator said I was the oldest in the race so I thought 'I'd better not come back next year.'

"The Gold Cup is the Gold Cup and I've been lucky enough to win that (aboard Lord Windermere in 2014), but the National is so hard to win."

Tiger Roll ridden by jockey Davy Russell powers home. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire
Tiger Roll ridden by jockey Davy Russell powers home. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

It has not all been plain sailing for Russell in recent weeks.

His mother Phyllis died at the beginning of March, while his close friend Pat Smullen, a multiple champion Flat jockey, was diagnosed with a tumour last month.

It is a measure of the man that only moments after claiming the biggest success of his career, he said: "This one is for Pat Smullen. 

"I was speaking to him the other morning and he's as tough as nails."

With Elliott and his team planning to catch the ferry back to Ireland on Saturday evening, celebrations were likely to go long into the night at his Cullentra base in County Meath.

However, Russell was planning to have a quiet one.

He added: "Gordon might be having a big celebration tonight, but I won't be, I'm riding at Tramore on Sunday.

"And I can't afford to retire, I've got four kids!"

Owner Michael O'Leary was keen to pay tribute to Russell.

He said: "It is a wonderful day for Davy Russell, one of the best jockeys in Ireland for the last 10 to 15 years.

"It's known we've had our ups and our downs, but he has always come back better than ever.

"It is not the end of his career, but I think it is marvellous that he can now add the greatest steeplechase to his CV.

"It's well known we parted company over the most legendary cup of tea in racing. 

"That was four or five years ago, and it says much about Davy's resilience the way he bounced back.

"In a group of elite Irish jockeys Davy is right up there - his career has been up and down, with periods of achievement but some lows, too, and it is the way he keeps coming back. 

"He could have had a huff and given up, but after a couple of quiet years he has come back.

"Now he is riding better than ever before and will be champion jockey in Ireland. 

"AP McCoy rode one winner of this race in 20 years, Ruby has won one, Barry has too, and now Davy has and it's a great thing to have on your CV."

Meanwhile, Willie Mullins was philosophical in defeat after narrowly missing out on winning the Randox Health Grand National for the second time.

The Irish champion trainer faces losing his crown to Gordon Elliott, and having seen his big rival deny him the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday, it was a rapidly-diminishing head that prevented his Pleasant Company catching Tiger Roll at Aintree.

Mullins, who struck in the National with Hedgehunter in 2005, said: "That's twice Gordon has done that to me, he did it in the Irish National too!

"He (Pleasant Company) seemed to get a little bit tired and then get a second wind.

"I never actually thought he'd got back up, but he ran a fantastic race. He jumped from fence to fence and you couldn't ask for any better.

"He was only beaten a head and at the last fence I thought we were going to be beaten eight or 10 lengths.

"I'm really proud of him, he jumped fantastic and he's one for next year."

His David Mullins, who is the nephew of the trainer, said: "I was hoping and praying we'd get there.

"It was a four-and-a-quarter-mile race and a war of attrition. All you want is another five yards and you have it, but that's racing and I'm very lucky to have won it two years ago.

"He probably did a little bit too much with me, but I had to let him go after jumping the the Chair - he just winged fences.

"Davy (Russell, on Tiger Roll) went by me at the second-last on a fresh horse and I sort of said we weren't going to win that race to the Elbow. I said we'd get to there and have one crack at him.

"I was just thinking 'go' and was hoping the winning post was going to keep going, but it didn't."

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