Just four weeks after retiring, Davy Russell sealed his comeback with a winner at Punchestown’s first meeting of 2023 on Sunday.
Gordon Elliott’s Sa Fureur became winner No 1,580 of Russell’s illustrious career in Ireland and Britain with a battling success in a maiden hurdle.
It put a seal on the former triple-champion jockey’s return to action after answering Elliott’s call to temporarily fill in for the injured Jack Kennedy as he recovers from a broken leg.
“I’m having a good blow, now!” joked Russell who resumed his riding career the day before with two spins at Fairyhouse that were out of the money.
Molly Scuffil-McCabe: ‘Being able to be professional, for this to be your job, it just makes all the difference’
It was hardly obvious the 43-year-old was anything but as fit as he was when winning on Liberty Dance at Thurles last month, after which he caught many unawares with his retirement decision.
Having wrong-footed them again by returning from his short-lived exit, Russell clearly relished being back in the saddle again – “Winning is what it’s all about.”
On a cold afternoon, he got a warm reception from an enthusiastic attendance.
“What makes it is the crowd and they clapped me into the parade ring,” Russell said. “We’re very lucky as a sport with the people that follow us. They have a love and interest in the sport. Having a bit of life around the place is super.”
Russell’s first ride back over fences saw him finish third of the four finishers on Minella Crooner in the Grade Three Madigan Group Novice Chase.
The mare Impervious took the spoils after successfully conceding weight to her male rivals.
On her first start for new owner JP McManus, the Brian Hayes partnered Impervious had a half a length in hand of Journey With Me, ridden by Hayes’s partner, Rachael Blackmore.
“It was a tall order giving weight to those boys. It was probably a tiny worry running her on heavy ground too. But she’s answered a lot of questions,” said her trainer Colm Murphy.
After stretching her unbeaten record over fences, some layers cut Impervious to 2-1 favourite for Cheltenham festival glory in the mares’ chase in March.
“She’s one of those, she wears her heart on her sleeve and she gives everything,” Murphy commented.
“She seems to be improving and, especially with those fillies, when they start improving you don’t know where they’ll end up,” he added.
Willie Mullins swapped Punchestown for some Caribbean holiday sunshine but managed to add to his reservoir of novice talent with the opening two winners.
A gap of over three years between races proved no problem to Tactical Move in a maiden while Paul Townend also did the steering on Impaire Et Passe in the Grade Two Skybet Moscow Flyer Hurdle.
Apart from the last, Impaire Et Passe’s jumping was notably slick and he was cut to 6-1 by some firms for both the Supreme and the Ballymore at Cheltenham.
Asked how good he thinks the horse is, Townend replied: “I don’t know because we can’t get him to do it at home to be honest, but he keeps doing it on the track. I think he’s very smart and he gave me a great feel.”
Two previous Mullins winners Vautour (2014) and Douvan (2015) went on to land the Supreme while Mikael D’Haguenet followed up in the 2009 Ballymore.
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was among those welcoming back the Beginners’ Chase winner Salmanino, part owned by the golfer’s brother, Mick.
The winner’s trainer Liz Doyle said: “Hopefully he can be competitive again, but that’s job done for the year. His jumping is very good and for a big horse he is very clever.
“He needed to win that today as that was his Gold Cup!”
Henry de Bromhead indicated both his Gold Cup winners A Plus Tard and Minella Indo will go straight back to the festival ‘Blue Riband’ in March.
He was speaking after Royal Thief was another to make light of a long lay-off with a 14-1 success in the amateur National.
With forecast low overnight temperatures, Monday’s Punchestown action depends on passing a 7.30 morning inspection.
Currently there is racing scheduled for every day this week although Clonmel’s Tuesday fixture also needs to pass a morning inspection due to an overnight frost threat.