Saturday, February 24, 2024

‘The time had come and I was happy to go, I’d emptied the tank’ – Davy Russell

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Russell, who suffered a major neck injury in 2021 that threatened to end his career prematurely and left him sidelined for 11 painful months, rode to the rescue of long-time ally Gordon Elliott when the Meath trainer lost stable jockey Jack Kennedy due to another leg break at the start of this year.

The pair enjoyed a memorable Dublin Racing Festival in February, spearheaded by Grade One success aboard Mighty Potter but a fall the next day left his Cheltenham Festival plans in limbo until the 11th hour.

The Cork rider made it to the Cotswolds for his belated swansong but he was worse for wear as a winner at the Olympics of jumps racing escaped him for the second successive season.

A public spat with former boss Michael O’Leary, the Gigginstown House Stud supremo, as well as being forced to give up his Gold Cup ride on Conflated, was not the way an equine legend should depart, however. His was a career that deserved a neat bow tied on top of it.

“I was just fierce unlucky with the fall that I got at Leopardstown, it was just one of those things that I got kicked in the wrong place and that didn’t help,” Russell says four months after permanently calling time. “Leopardstown felt fantastic and Aintree felt brilliant as well but I was sore in Cheltenham, I was in bad shape. I was very, very sore after the fall and I just couldn’t see out the four days, I had reached my max.”

Were it up to him, the three-time Irish champion jumps jockey would have disappeared into the background never to be seen again but his wife Edelle was having none of it.

She insisted that he go out on a more fitting note and what better way than to partner a pair of Grade One winners at the Aintree meeting where he had already cemented his legacy through his partnership with dual English Grand National winner Tiger Roll.

“It hadn’t really bothered me as much until I spoke to her about it. She was adamant that I kept going and that I finished on a better note, I couldn’t see where the better note was going to be,” the 44-year-old says. “I was happy enough to finish up then but then Gordon had some really nice horses going to Aintree and they all ran really well. Riding Gerri Colombe and Irish Point, the two of them were dynamite. The horses in general ran really well and it felt great to be honest, it felt super.”

Russell makes no bones about it, there was no more left to give after a career spanning more than 20 years of blood, guts and no little class and he’s happy that he didn’t linger any longer.

“It was time. The time had come and I was happy to go. I’d emptied the tank over the years and I was happy to finish up on both occasions, I was happy to finish up when I did,” he says.

“The most pleasing thing about it was that I was still wanted by the owners and Gordon and even the staff in Gordon’s were very good about it and they were delighted to have me back.

“Sometimes you can overstay your welcome but it seemed that I wasn’t overstaying my welcome and the timing was right to come back. The time was also right to finish up at Aintree.”

A “very busy” next chapter takes in work with broodmares and prepping horses for sales, farming, TV punditry duties with RTÉ and helping his kids with their ponies having lived the dream for so long.

​“Sure, I just loved every moment of it. I just loved riding horses and it’s great to be able to ride horses. It’s a feat in itself to be able to ride horses but then when you taste success and for it to continue over and over and over the years is unreal,” he says.

“Every year just got better and better and better and I finished up dining at the top table from a very humble start anyway. To be able to dine at the top table and hold my own with the best of the best was very nice.

“I have great memories of big festivals and that’s what our sport is all about, being able to compete at those big festivals so that was very pleasing.”

Russell will swap his whip for a hurl this evening when he takes part in the annual ‘Hurling for Cancer’ game at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow (throw-in at 6.0).

There will be a galaxy of stars from the GAA world – including the likes of Cian Lynch, Con O’Callaghan and David Clifford – on show as well as Irish icons like Paul McGrath and Rachael Blackmore with all funds raised going to cancer research.

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