Russell perfect for stealth test on Abragante

In a golden generation of jump jockeys, the eminence of Ruby Walsh can be usefully gauged by the opportunities being seized in his absence. The most obvious beneficiary remains Sam Thomas, who hopes to build on his achievements last weekend when riding Denman, the favourite, in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday. But the man who rides Denman's chief rival, Abragante, finds himself in a position to make a defining breakthrough of his own.

In three seasons since returning to his native land, Davy Russell has finished fourth, third and second to Walsh in the Irish jump jockeys' championship. All the portents suggest that he will maintain the logic of that sequence by claiming his first title this time and not merely because Walsh is now sidelined until Christmas.

Last season, Walsh rode 125 winners in Ireland, and Russell 79. Remarkably, however, this time round Russell matched that tally as early as last Saturday, when Kilcrea Castle won at Gowran Park. With Walsh stuck on 73, and obliged to divide his time between Ireland and Britain, the title is Russell's for the taking.

"We have five months left," he said yesterday. "All you can do is take it day by day, ride as many winners as you can, and whatever else that gets you, you'll accept. I will just keep going as hard as the body can take it. The more winners I ride, the more I want. Hunger's the best horse."

He had come here to satisfy that craving, and in the process to land a gamble for Charles Byrnes, the Co Limerick trainer, on Merchent Paddy . The job done, Russell turned his thoughts to Saturday, and could not suppress a sense of redemption since his time in Britain with Ferdy Murphy.

"I started riding winners when I was 19, as an amateur," he said. "The nine years since is a long time. Obviously you can either improve as you go along, or find a level. Luckily I've had some real good people around me to keep me on the straight and narrow. Looking back, I would say I just wasn't mature enough when I was with Ferdy. He definitely put me in the right direction."

Not that he was ever a hell-raiser he does not drink and nor was he anything remotely approaching a failure for Murphy, counting second on Truckers Tavern in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup among their shared achievements. But he was not yet equal to the rigours of riding seven days a week. "All credit to the jockeys here for their professionalism," he said. "Over in Ireland we have an average of three meetings a week. Otherwise you might be schooling, or else doing something you shouldn't."

Russell, from the charming seaside town of Youghal, Co Cork, had made his name in point-to-points. Young amateurs in Ireland do not ride against mere dilettantes, and he was always considered an unusual talent, albeit he still felt raw when joining Murphy.

"Every point-to-point race is over three miles, it's a staying race," he said. "Riding over two miles, I thought you're going to have to be handier here. But I learned that you have to ride every horse accordingly, to mix and match. I was trying to ride every horse the same."

The stealthy, sympathetic style with which he feels so comfortable itself owes something to that slow blossoming. "I suppose it might reflect on me as a young one," he said. "I'm not sure I would have responded too well to having a stick waved in my face. There's some you have to do that. But the majority will help you out if you give them a bit of a chance."

Certainly this approach qualified Russell as a natural substitute for the suspended Timmy Murphy on Abragante, who is not necessarily the most ferocious of battlers off the bridle. "Timmy thought I might suit the horse," he said. "He does have a nice weight, but remember it's a big step up, he has his penalty to carry, and a couple of real nice horses to deal with."

Russell's hopes of a big win on these shores last winter had foundered when Cailin Alainn, a mare also trained by Byrnes, took successive falls at Cheltenham. "She was so unlucky," Byrnes reflected. "Unfortunately she hurt herself on the Flat at Galway and now she won't be back in before mid-February. If she's ready in time for Cheltenham, she'll go, but otherwise we'll be looking at Punchestown and Fairyhouse."

The latter venue holds its big winter meeting this weekend, staging three Grade One races in barely an hour on Sunday. Glencove Marina and Ebaziyan, both trained by Willie Mullins, are among the acceptors for the Ballymore Properties Hatton's Grace Hurdle, but William Hill yesterday chalked up Aitmatov as 5-2 favourite.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Ice Melted

(Carlisle 3.30)

NB: Elsie's Pride

(Uttoxeter 3.10)

Sport
The Aviva Premiership trophy
rugby union All the latest from Twickenham
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood
footballDanny Higginbotham: Tim Sherwood must play game of two halves to cause major upset
News
Caber is trained to help child victims of serious crimes testify
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor