Davy Russell makes his dramatic return to action this weekend with a handful of rides for Gordon Elliott.
Just 27 days after announcing the end of his stellar career, Russell’s retirement has proved short-lived.
The 43-year-old three-time former champion jockey has answered Elliott’s call to step in for the injured Jack Kennedy as he continues his recuperation from a broken leg.
Kennedy saw his surgeon on Friday morning and is due to go back to him in two weeks for another consultation. With the start of the Cheltenham festival just two months away, there is no timeline for a possible return to race riding.
“It wasn’t even discussed,” said Kennedy’s agent Kevin O’Ryan. “It all depends on how things heal, and everyone’s different when it comes to that.”
Russell gets back into the swing of things on board Jazzy Matty in the opener at Fairyhouse and will be on board Bodhisattva in a handicap hurdle on Saturday.
The Cork rider also has three spins on Sunday at Punchestown, culminating in Minella Crooner in the Grade Three Madigan Group Novice Chase.
Rustiness is unlikely to be an issue after a spell on the sidelines little more than the equivalent of a hefty suspension.
There will certainly be less apprehension than when Russell returned in September of 2021 from 11 months out with a serious neck injury.
Urged to retire then by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, the jockey’s determination to march to the sound of his own drumbeat resulted in what looked to be a hugely successful last act.
However, once again, he has wrong-footed popular expectation, a habit that perhaps will even have some anticipating another sort of comeback once Kennedy is fit again.
A total of 22 weekend declarations by Elliott does indicate the scale of the trainer’s commitments.
Jordan Gainford and Denis O’Regan are among those also on duty at Fairyhouse while Sam Ewing goes to Warwick for spins on the Elliott pair, The Goffer and Level Neverending.
Richie McLernon has also been snapped up for the stalwart Sire Du Berlais in a Pertemps race at Warwick.
Russell’s comeback shapes as the main weekend draw, however.
Liberty Dance had looked like she’d secured a little bit of history by being the last of Russell’s 1,579 winners over jumps in Ireland and Britain.
Considering the first of them, Right N Royal, came almost 24 years ago, the breadth of Russell’s career, and the drive to sustain it, is remarkable even by the standards of a golden generation of National Hunt jockeys.
Jazzy Matty lines up under Russell for a four-year-old conditions hurdle. The half-brother to Delta Work broke his maiden under Kennedy over course and distance last month. Previously Russell had been on board when he was runner-up to Comfort Zone at Navan.
The latter’s trainer Joseph O’Brien has Nusret in this and Daryl Jacob’s mount can boast a third to Lossiemouth in Leopardstown’s Grade Two on St Stephen’s Day.
Yet again, however, the one to beat appears to come from Willie Mullins, who relies on Blood Destiny.
The French-bred sluiced up on his Irish debut at Cork last month and impressed Paul Townend.
“I really liked him that day. He jumped really smartly, and quickened up down the straight. I think he has come on from that as well. It is a competitive race but I think he can build on that and he is a horse I really like,” the champion jockey told Ladbrokes on Friday.
Saturday’s feature is the €80,000 Dan & Joan Moore Handicap Chase where last year’s winner Dunvegan tops a dozen hopefuls.
Ante-post favourite for this has been Cayd Boy who was well supported over the course and distance last month. A bad mistake at the fourth last saw Liz Doyle’s runner finish fourth to Sil Ver Klass.
Prior to that he was runner-up to the high-class Impervious at Wexford, and with proven form on heavy ground, support for Cayd Boy in the betting has been no surprise.
Gong two miles on very testing conditions also looks to be Epson Du Houx’s bag and Henry de Bromhead’s runner could represent better value.
Four career victories have all come on very soft going including when successful at Cork at the end of 2021.
Subsequently out of action for over a year, Epson Du Houx came back against no less than the two-mile champion Energumene in the Hilly Way at Cork. He had little chance there but that should have sharpened him up nicely for a return to the handicap ranks.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Charles Byrnes is chasing a slice of history as he saddles Green Glory to try and become the first Irish-trained winner of Kempton’s Coral Lanzarote Hurdle.
Co Limerick based Byrnes has his son Philip claiming 5lbs off the Irish hope who justified considerable market confidence when scoring on the final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas festival.
“Hopefully the ground doesn’t come up heavy, but it is what it is. He has a nice weight, but it is a step up in grade from a novice handicap to an open handicap,” Byrnes reported.
As well as Elliott’s trio of Warwick runners, Mullins also sends Mr Incredible to the midlands track for the marathon Classic Chase.
The ex-De Bromhead runner only got as far as the fourth fence before being brought down in Leopardstown’s Paddy Power on his first start for Mullins.
He was well supported in the market on that occasion and Brian Hayes again rides.