It’s 15 months since Davy Russell was jettisoned as retained rider by the Gigginstown Stud for Bryan Cooper.
These are two jockeys whose stories refuse to be separated when it comes to Cheltenham and the month of March.
Rewind 12 months to the day, and Russell was in the midst of a difficult Festival in which he would fall three times and suffer from a surfeit of confidence, but it was a horror smash for Cooper on the Wednesday that would change his fortunes.
Two days on and Russell was filling in for the injured young Kerryman and delivering two winners for his erstwhile employers, the successes on Tiger Roll and Savello sandwiching a fairytale triumph on board Lord Windermere for Jim Culloty in the Gold Cup.
Here was proof, were it still needed, of Russell’s powers and yet when we fast forward through to the opening day of this year’s four-day bonanza, we find Russell was spending the bones of it in a corporate box with his new sponsors.
Not a single ride did he muster on Tuesday.
Russell was sporting a suit the one time he was spotted in the parade ring. Un De Sceaux had just claimed the Arkle and the man from Youghal made it his business to shake the hand of Glanmire’s Colm O’Connell, whose father Eddie owned the winning seven-year-old.
Such is life for the gun for hire. Even one with Russell’s armoury.
“Yeah, I had no ride,” he reflected yesterday. “We were a bit unlucky, a couple of horses didn’t get in. But this is great. I’m a fan as much as a participant, so it was very enjoyable for me to watch. (Tuesday) was an unbelievable day.”
Maybe, but yesterday was miles better.
The opening Novices’ Hurdle brought him a 14th Festival winner with Dermot Weld’s Windsor Park and he followed it up with the victory in the Glenfarclas Cross Country on board Rivage D’Or, who Cooper was due to partner until the last minute.
“Bryan was going to ride it and thought ‘no’. He has too many rides so he didn’t, just in case something happened in it,” confirmed Rivage D’Or’s winning trainer Tony Martin, “I got Davy yesterday morning.”
Another sliding doors moment.
It was a success that brings to three the number of firsts Russell has delivered at Prestbury Park for Gigginstown since Michael O’Leary dispensed with his services. Cooper, who no-one disputes is a fine rider with an even finer future, won his first in maroon on Don Poli yesterday.
“If they were pink and white, I wouldn’t care,” said Russell of the silks after his first success.
You would have to believe him. Not once has he spit out his dummy since that demotion two New Years Eves ago. This is a guy who will race anywhere, any time and for anyone and his presence in the Glenfarclas Cross Country attests to that.
Most of the top jockeys avoid the race and its sort like the plague.
Mounts on big race favourites or fancies are hardly worth the risk inherent in a run over three miles and seven furlongs. One over a variety of fences, banks and turns and one where the bumper car nature of it can deliver a ban or a bump as easily as a win.
Just ask Nina Carberry and Quantitativeeasing.
“Look, just a proper horseman,” said Martin of his winning jockey. “Cooper is the same. Carberry is the same but, unfortunately, if things go wrong, if horses go out and get blocked down and with the rides Bryan Cooper and Ruby have later in the week then…
“It’s not taking anything away from the likes of Ruby or Bryan.
“They would be brilliant in it, but it’s not one of those races that people hold in high esteem and, when you are riding favourites in a Gold Cup and in a Champion Chase, then naturally the top profile jockeys are inclined to sidestep it. You won’t get a better horseman than Davy though.”
Russell, for his part, was adamant that any win here is one to be prized.
He wouldn’t be the first man or woman to make that case and his affection for the Cross Country stretches back even further than 2006 when it gave him his first Festival winner with Native Jack.
“I do, I love them,” said Russell whose week extends to just two more races, on board Jetson for Jessica Harrington in today’s World Hurdle and Lord Windermere in tomorrow’s Gold Cup. “Sure, it’s back to how this game was started.
“So, it’s great that they hold the tradition in what we call maybe the home of National Hunt racing. You must remember, this is how our sport began. It’s a tradition and we’re a traditional sport, so it’s great that it’s carried forward to something like this.”
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