CORK jockey Davy Russell was back in the winner's enclosure for the first time in almost a year at Navan on Saturday after steering Chemical Energy to an impressive victory.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider was sidelined for 11 months after dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick last October aboard Doctor Duffy.
Russell made his long-awaited return to action at Downpatrick on Friday, with each of his two rides for Gordon Elliott - who himself returned from a six-month suspension earlier this week - filling the runner-up spot.
The 42-year-old appeared to have every chance of going one better at Navan, with dual bumper winner Chemical Energy the 4-7 favourite to make a successful start to his jumping career in the Bar One Racing 'Double The Odds First Goalscorer Special' Maiden Hurdle.
Making his first appearance since finishing down the field in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the Elliott-trained five-year-old travelled strongly before pulling 11 lengths clear of Fancy A Cosmo with the minimum of fuss.
Russell said: "That was lovely. It was heartening to get such a nice reception when I came back in. My mother is from this part of the country, so my uncles used to always come racing here in the past. It's a great place.
"It's a lovely feeling when you cross the line. It's a relief, if anything, and at least I can still do it anyway.
"I feel great, super, and got through Downpatrick no problem."
Elliott was completing a double on the card after winning the opening maiden hurdle with the similarly promising Weseekhimhere (11-10 favourite), ridden by Jack Kennedy.
He said of Chemical Energy: "He's not a bad horse. We'll try to find a novice hurdle for him now. The owners are from England so I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up going over there for something.
The trainer then made it three with the Jordan Gainford-ridden Tullybeg (6-1) in the BarOneRacing.com Hurdle.
On Friday, Russell had to settle for the runner-up berth on his two rides for Gordon Elliott as he made his eagerly-awaited return to competitive action in Downpatrick.
The three-time champion-jockey, out of action since sustaining a serious neck injury in a fall at Limerick last October, declared, “It’s a great buzz, just fantastic to be back,” after partnering The Greek (7/4 favourite) into a remote second spot behind Serenity Grove in the opener and, later, his mount The Abbey jumped the final fence in front before being readily brushed aside by stable-companion Hurricane Georgie (Jordan Gainford) in the beginners chase.