Russell struck gold by defying all logic on Lord Windermere

It is only when one sat down to watch the race in peace and quiet that you began to fully appreciate the ride Davy Russell gave Lord Windermere in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Russell struck gold by defying all logic on Lord Windermere

You could even argue this was the greatest balls of steel drive in the history of Cheltenham, because what Russell did defied all logic.

We can dress it up whatever we want, but Lord Windermere went into the Gold Cup as a virtual no-hoper.

There was no evidence he was on the upgrade this season and headed for Cheltenham on the back of a bad effort in the Hennessy at Leopardstown.

At Leopardstown, Lord Windermere trailed in sixth of seven, no less than twenty five and a half lengths behind the winner, Last Instalment. Making a case for him was next to impossible.

What Russell proceeded to do was quite staggering and at no stage, well at least not until shortly before the final fence, could you have imagined Jim Culloty’s charge playing any sort of meaningful part at the end of the contest.

Russell’s riding of Lord Windermere was madness, utter madness, and in a Cheltenham Gold Cup to boot.

But he clearly reasoned that it would take something different, wildly different, something special, out of the ordinary, if Lord Windermere were to win. That’s exactly what the champion jockey delivered - this was quite extraordinary.

When it was all over even Russell himself must have been bemused by the massive turn of events, following his sacking by Gigginstown on New Year’s Eve.

That came after he had partnered their Rogue Angel to win by 11 lengths in the first race of the day at Punchestown. Requested by Michael O’Leary to go for a cup of tea, he was then informed of the decision.

Some time later on RTE, when asked what advice he would give to his successor, Bryan Cooper, Russell deliciously responded, “don’t go for a cup of tea”.

On New Year’s Day, he had to head to Tramore to ride for Gigginstown and could hardly have been feeling any lower.

On his way home from Punchestown the previous evening, I rang him looking for the story regarding his dismissal by Gigginstown.

This is part of what he said: “I know what I have to do now and that is to work very hard. I still have a lot of belief in my own ability and am confident people will continue to use me.”

Prophetic words or what? Remind me again why he got the bullet from Gigginstown.

And, by the way, Lord Windermere was, of course, bred by Edmond Coleman from Ballyre, Killeagh.

This Cheltenham Festival has become a complete monster. There are many major contests through the National Hunt season, but none of them, I would argue, get anywhere near to being regarded as important as winning a race, any race, at Cheltenham.

This meeting has become all-consuming and it isn’t just the four days racing when Prestbury Park literally becomes the centre of the universe!

The build up is enormous, with many preview nights taking place on both sides of the Irish Sea for weeks before the horses leave the gates for the opener on Tuesday.

The fallout is massive as well and, basically, everyone in the game has their season defined by what went on at the foot of the Cotswolds for those crazy afternoons.

Willie Mullins, for instance, will have had a great campaign, irrespective of what happens between now and the conclusion of the Punchestown festival.

Mullins’ horses have been in terrific form all season, but had he drawn a blank at Cheltenham, or managed just one winner, what had gone before would have counted for very little. It shouldn’t be like that, but it is.

Plenty of people constantly make the point that all the big events should be taken on their own merits and that Cheltenham should simply be viewed in the overall picture.

Such people are merely wasting their time and may as well be whistling on top of a mountain.

Cheltenham dwarfs everything and whether you are talking Aintree, Fairyhouse, Punchestown, whatever, they are mere add-ons to the only meeting that really counts.

Paul Nicholls looks sure to be champion trainer in Britain this season, but had a bad Cheltenham with just one winner, Lac Fontana in the County Hurdle on the Friday.

Nicky Henderson’s horses have never really fired and the loss of both Simonsig and Sprinter Sacre has been severely felt.

Like Nicholls, he too had just one winner at Cheltenham, Whisper in the Coral Cup on the Wednesday.

These are two proud men, who have made their names by winning Gold Cups and Champion Hurdles at Cheltenham.

This time round they managed to win just two handicaps between them, a paltry return for the two leading trainers in Britain.

No real success at Cheltenham then means a modest season for both, by their very high standards. Is arriving at such a conclusion fair? Of course not, but it’s accurate.

The flat is completely different. All the big meetings and big races take on a life of their own and the superb Royal Ascot, for instance, is merely part of a global scene.

Cheltenham has become an absolute marathon for punters, who do the four days. But, of course, for many at least, it stretches way beyond that.

Numerous punters arrive on the Monday and don’t leave ‘til Saturday. Such behaviour became necessary when the meeting was changed from three to four days.

That should never have been a runner, because the quality of the racing on offer has greatly suffered. There is now any amount of padding to fill the four days.

Will it ever revert to three? Not a prayer, this is a major cash cow and moving it out to five days would be far more likely. Oh well, at least we can’t live forever.

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