Davy Russell is on his last lap. Now it’s all about pure luck


On October 11 last year, I lay on a sofa in my living room watching the Limerick race with my wife, Gillian, on a rare Sunday off. We had had a Sunday roast, which is not a tradition in this house, and enjoyed the afternoon doing nothing. Isabelle was watching with us, our other girls were playing in another room, and as they rushed to the premiere of the Munster National, I was glad to be where I was.

Westerner Point pretty much got up front at the first fence, but your eye was immediately caught by Doctor Duffy mid-shot, screwing to his right and colliding with Internal Transfer. My eyes were glued to Doctor Duffy as he slid to the floor. I winced at the thought of what was to come for Davy Russell, heading for the floor in the front row of a competitive peloton, on the first fence it’s a guaranteed kick.

What happened, however, was a fall I also knew all too well. Davy stuck to Doctor Duffy all the way to the floor, refusing the offer to come out right away as he held on a bit longer to get himself into a position where a part of him that wasn’t already hurting would take the impact.

So, boom. Gravity won – as always – and Davy was kicked out to the left. With his hands under his hips, he speared into the Limerick turf headfirst.

I turned to Gillian and said Davy had just broken his neck. She responded with a shocked “oh no”, but I could tell that wasn’t an answer. It was a reaction to what we had just seen.

She knew it, but none of us knew how long he would be on the sidelines, maybe he did, but 11 months is a lifetime for a sportsman.

At 41, many people even wondered why he would consider a comeback. He’s accomplished so much, and why wouldn’t he just move on enjoying life with Edel and their young family? How many more times can a person push their luck? He had missed the paralysis by a few millimeters, and it was surely only a matter of time before a neurosurgeon told him the same thing.

Rumors were swirling, but all the time Davy was resolutely provocative. He would return, and yesterday, after 340 days, Davy Russell returned to the racecourse as a jockey at Downpatrick.

He will have surprised many, challenged others and vindicated some, but for me, the only person he proves anything to is himself. He’s tough, old-fashioned because his emotions or feelings rarely show, but he’s also on the final lap, which can be long or short, depending on his luck.

He teams up with his latest ally, Gordon Elliott. Both are back just in time for the Listowel Harvest Festival, but I doubt when either of them left last September they could have imagined the 12 months they would endure before their return.

Gordon will return many times, and by the time he does in 2022, he could be where he was in 2020. Only Cheveley Park have left their Cullentra stables with outstanding horses, but they have taken their stars.

He has found them before and will find them again, but that quality is hard to find, and he knows it too. He knows his return date since he got his suspension date, so expect him to have his horses in good shape for the next few weeks.

Dispatch Allen and co may have started from Gordon, but they may not necessarily have started from Davy. His neck may have been broken in the last 11 months – physically, not proverbially – and he’s got neck!

His ability to network and make phone calls will not have let him down, and he will at least have made an offer to keep the rides on the ones he had before the injury. He’ll probably have asked for the chance to ride them all, and they just might define Davy’s year.

Gordon will provide him with plenty of winners, but Gordon’s young stock is at least three, possibly four years away from being championship horses. He may well have a few decent rookies for this term, but no obvious championship horse. He will have dreamed of returning to the biggest stage, and when we have appreciated Davy’s success, that’s where he should be.

Is there any chance Davy’s entire comeback will revolve around Tiger Roll? Maybe it will, we all need to dream, and Gigginstown finally consented to throw him in condition chases to prove his mark should go down, so he’ll have done it by the time the weights of the Grand National will appear in February.

It would be a fairy tale, and maybe when you dealt with the mental and physical trauma he went through last year, it might be deserved but, anyway, Davy got what he wanted yesterday.

He’s back, but time is running out; Gordon is back but with more time ahead of him than behind him.

For Irish racing, the scene is more competitive with both indoors than outdoors. One was unlucky, the other created their own bad luck, but I wish them well for now.


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