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
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
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

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect