But that was to prove miles wide of the mark and when Russell gets up this morning, on his way to Gowran Park, he might allow himself a little smile of satisfaction, as he ponders the fact he is long odds-on to be champion jockey for a third time.
That much-publicised New Year’s Eve was at Punchestown. At that stage Russell was some six years into the job as the retained rider for O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, and was asked to go for a cup of tea by the Ryanair maestro.
He had just ridden a winner for Gigginstown, Rogue Angel, in a beginners’ chase, and had no inclination of what was coming.
O’Leary stunned Russell by telling him he was being dismissed as Gigginstown’s number one rider, an amazing decision Russell was then champion jockey.
Russell admitted to being ‘shocked’ and it would have been no great surprise had it taken him months to face another cup of tea!
He was replaced by Bryan Cooper and, with the Gigginstown gig gone, and no other decent job available, it seemed Russell’s days for partnering big-race winners were largely over.
But nothing could have been further from the truth. He proceeded to keep his thoughts to himself, which had to be hard for the man most sought after for Cheltenham preview nights, because he rarely fails to call a spade a spade and is not short of a colourful phrase or two.
His highly intelligent reaction to the O’Leary bombshell reaped a rich dividend. Less than three months after Punchestown, he enjoyed his best ever Cheltenham festival.
Russell rode Lord Windermere to land the Gold Cup and stood in for the injured Cooper to win two races for Gigginstown, the Triumph Hurdle on Tiger Roll and the Grand Annual Chase aboard Savello.
Those three successes are part of the love-affair he has long had with Cheltenham. Russell has ridden at least one winner twelve years in-a-row at the festival, from 2006-2017.
The pipe and slippers then were never a possibility, as he gradually clambered back to where his talent entitles him to be, right at the top of the tree.
In July of 2016 Cooper was also fired by O’Leary and Gigginstown, who have not appointed a retained jockey since have, rather remarkably, increasingly turned to Russell, who now shares most of the organisation’s rides with the blossoming Jack Kennedy.
And so, Russell is poised, obviously helped by the fact Ruby Walsh has been injured for much of the campaign, to be champion jockey, something that was quite unthinkable, as he sipped that fateful cup of tea.
He has ridden 97 winners this season, will easily hit the magical hundred, unless something entirely unforeseen happens, and is 32 clear of nearest pursuer, the currently injured Paul Townend.
Now 38 years-of-age, but, arguably, riding better than ever, he continues to cement what can be best described as a Lazarus-type comeback.
THERE was a major feature on Tony McCoy in last Sunday’s Racing Post which, no doubt, some readers found interesting.
The part that particularly caught my eye was his comments on the possible further diluting of the Cheltenham festival.
McCoy indicated there is still talk about adding another day to the four we already have. He was quoted as saying: “I worry about how diluted it’s become already and there’s still talk about five days.
“The whole game’s gone when that happens, finished. There are races at the festival that are a waste of space as it is.’’
No argument with any of that, but then he went on to say: “It’ll end up like a lot of the festivals in Ireland, with one decent race a day and the rest won’t be worth watching.’’
Anyone have an idea as to what festivals he has in mind? His muttering makes absolutely no sense to me.
FAIRYHOUSE’S rescheduled card on Wednesday took some swallowing, as we struggle to understand what the advantages are of scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to race programming.
Their two and a half-mile maiden hurdle was for horses who had run at least three times and had never finished in the first three.
If there is a demand for such rubbish why did the contest attract only seven entries and six runners? Ironically, it went to Force Of Forces, trained by Willie Mullins, who, as we know, was badly in need of a winner!
Then we had a two-mile beginners chase, for horses rated 109 or less over hurdles. We know these races are supposed to provide opportunities for the lesser lights among the training fraternity, but again this delight only attracted ten entries and seven runners!
WILLIE Mullins has a great record with mares and has clearly unearthed another gem in Benie Des Dieux, who took a Listed chase at Naas last Saturday.
She won three times in nine races in her native France and is unbeaten for Mullins in three outings in this country.
Benie clearly hasn’t been that easy to train and there have twice been long gaps between her appearances.
Indeed, at Naas she was coming off a break of 69 days, actually relatively short for her, after reportedly suffering a minor setback.
In any case, Benie Des Dieux beat a smart pair in Asthuria and Dinaria Des Obeaux very cosily in the end and just gave the impression there is massive scope for improvement.
Later in the afternoon at Naas that was a fair old gamble landed by the Charles Byrnes-trained newcomer, Balliniska Band, in the bumper.
Essentially, he was backed as if defeat was out of the question and the confidence was totally justified, as the son of Vinnie Roe scored with plenty in hand.
I don’t know whether Byrnes took it into consideration or not, but this was a bumper with no representative from either the Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott stables. Now, if you were going to put one away then that was a good starting point!