Youghal's Davy Russell – sublime horseman almost beyond compare 

Youghal's Davy Russell – sublime horseman almost beyond compare 

"All smiles"....

CORKMAN Davy Russell once said “there’s no point in going at it if you don’t give your all” – and the rider bows out having certainly followed that advice with a winner at Thurles.

The 43-year-old represented the last bastion of a golden age of National Hunt riders. McCoy, Walsh, Geraghty, Johnson, Carberry, Russell – the names trip off the tongue, the weighing-room giants of the past 20 years or more.

Russell perhaps did not enjoy as much headline success as some of those – but this was a man who rode Cheltenham Festival winners as regular as clockwork and showed nerves of steel to steer Tiger Roll to back-to-back Grand National wins, emulating the legendary Red Rum.

Renowned as a horseman almost beyond compare and a proud Cork native, Russell is the second-youngest of six children for Jerry and Phyllis, raised on the family farm in Youghal, where he admits he was obsessed with riding his pony.

His father had a horse in training there, so it was probably a natural progression for Russell to have a crack in the competitive sphere, riding his first winner at Gowran Park in May 1999 and spending four years as an amateur before being propelled into the big time.

Russell created quite a stir as Yorkshire handler Ferdy Murphy snapped him up as stable rider in 2003, replacing the retiring Adrian Maguire, who left quite the shoes to fill.

"Sealed with a kiss"....
"Sealed with a kiss"....

It was a steep learning curve for the then 23-year-old – from point to points to finishing second in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Truckers Tavern, Russell was on the fast track to success.

However, when his association with Murphy came to an end in early 2004, Russell returned to Ireland, spending a season with Edward O’Grady before a couple of years riding freelance, admitting the daily grind to keep his weight to a bare minimum took its toll.

Salvation came in the form of Michael O’Leary, who offered Russell the job as Gigginstown’s first-choice rider in September 2007 – a partnership which helped Russell transcend from five-times championship runner-up to top jockey in both the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.

Few would have expected the next twist in a relationship that yielded top-level success with the likes of Sir Des Champs and First Lieutenant and Weapon’s Amnesty though, as O’Leary informed him over a cup of tea at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve that his services would no longer be required.

It is a mark of the man that once the shock had worn off, Russell dusted himself down and offered the best possible riposte in steering Lord Windermere to Gold Cup glory that spring – indeed Russell actually rode a couple of Gigginstown winners at that Festival too, including a certain Tiger Roll in the Triumph Hurdle.

Russell built himself back up, forging a strong relationship with Gordon Elliott which helped him return to the top of the tree as Irish champion in 2017-18 – a season which also produced a first National win on Gigginstown’s Tiger Roll.

O’Leary admitted Russell was seemingly better than ever following that National triumph and the post-race celebrations are a thing of legend, with Youghal staging a fantastic homecoming for the jumping heroes.

The following year saw another Aintree party for Team Tiger Roll and Russell then added a further feather to his cap when he followed in the footsteps of Fred Winter, doubling up aboard Carriacou in the Grand-Steeple Chase de Paris at Auteuil.

The Covid pandemic then scuppered any chance of a Grand National hat-trick for Tiger Roll in 2020 and O’Leary’s very public disagreement with the British handicapper meant an Aintree return was never going to happen.

It was not all plain sailing for Russell, far from it – he suffered his fair share of ill fortune on the injury front.

Jockey Davy Russell with his Family after he won on Liberty Dance and announced his retirement from the saddle.
Jockey Davy Russell with his Family after he won on Liberty Dance and announced his retirement from the saddle.

A punctured lung saw him miss the Gold Cup and the Grand National meeting in 2013, while he broke his arm twice in 2015, sustaining a broken foot into the bargain on the second occasion.

The neck injury sustained in a fall at Limerick in October 2020 was a bad one and could even have been worse, with Russell saying he had “dodged a bullet” after fracturing and dislocating vertebrae that left him in traction. It looked like the time had come – but he was determined to make it back, and did so in September last year.

Russell has also had his run-ins with the stewards too, banned for 14 days for being rude to the officials at Clonmel on one occasion and given five days for grabbing a fellow jockey’s whip in mid-race in 2014.

He attracted all the wrong kind of attention following an incident in 2017, when he appeared to punch his mount on the head before a race, eventually being given a four-day ban after an initial caution was upgraded.

But those aberrations should not be allowed to detract from Russell’s overall record, which also includes an admirable charitable endeavour.

A huge fan of hurling, Russell and Flat trainer Jim Bolger have channelled their shared love for the sport into fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society via an annual charity match between a host of racing, GAA, sports stars and TV personalities, which has raised over €1million since its inception in 2012.

While Russell is bowing out, there will be no room for slacking as he and his wife Edelle, a former Irish champion pole vaulter, have four children to keep them busy, with Russell also having another daughter from a previous relationship.

O’Leary himself urged Russell to quit the game for the sake of his family following his Limerick spill.

However, Russell once said: “I don’t want to finish on anybody else’s terms. I’ll finish on my own”.

Forever his own man, he has now done just that.

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