Davy Russell: ‘It would be very hard to spoil the Cheltenham Festival’


  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy. Learn more
  • Top jumps jockey Davy Russell on the four-day meeting, new jumps and winning in the USA

    The jumps season is really starting to get going and it was marvellous to be back at Cheltenham for their Showcase meeting and to get a winner out of it, too. The rain came at just the right time, which meant the ground was perfect – the whole track was in great condition.

    There was good racing over the two days and we were provided with a few hints for the Festival there in March, such as Saturday’s bumper winner, Encanto Bruno, trained in Ireland by John McConnell, and Charles Byrnes’ winning hurdler Shoot First – and even my winner in the novices’ chase, Chemical Energy. All three are likely to have engagements at the Cheltenham Festival, so having been there and seen it all can only be an advantage.

    Talking of the Festival, the decision was announced last week that the event would be sticking to its four-day format, rather than extending to five days as had been proposed. The people who make these decisions know what they’re talking about, so if they say four days is best, I’m happy to go with that. But if they said five, or even let’s go back to three, I’d be fine with that, too.

    Cheltenham is such a super Festival that stands out on its own and always keeps reinventing itself anyway – there’s always something new going on, but done very naturally. It’s like the fella who can play cricket then turn around and play rugby equally well. It would be very hard to spoil the Cheltenham Festival, it’s just one of those places.

    This was the first time that all Cheltenham’s hurdles and fences featured the new white guard rails and take-off boards. I don’t think they’re really necessary and we still have the orange-style jumps in Ireland, but it’s no big deal. Some horses certainly look twice at them, but that can be solved with schooling over them at home.

    There were also two pony races on the card on Saturday and the future looks bright judging by some of the performances from the young jockeys in action there.

    A winning double in the USA

    Before Cheltenham, I was racing in America. Gordon Elliott sent out three runners for the Far Hills race meeting in New Jersey and two of them won and the other was third, so it was a super couple of days and well worth the journey! The Insider was very impressive, winning the juvenile hurdle by 17 lengths, then we also won their champion hurdle with a horse called Ted Hastings, who narrowly beat an American-trained horse.

    Jumps racing is very different over there – the ground is usually quite quick, although there was a bit of rain about this year, the style of racing is unique and the jumps are plastic and spongy, a bit bigger than French hurdles. Our horses had a lot to adapt to, but they did so very well, thankfully. The meeting is run similar to a point-to-point in that it’s only set up for the day, with the racecourse only used once a year for this meeting, and the weighing room is a tent.

    We try to go over for this meeting at Far Hills as well as Nashville every year and we’ve had some success there before, so it was great to be back.

    It’s still early days, but…

    The next big meeting in the calendar is the Ladbrokes Festival at Down Royal at the start of November where a few English horses will be entered, so that will be interesting. Then we’re back to Cheltenham, before Fairyhouse, and that’s us in full swing for the season.

    It’s still early days, but all the horses from last year seem to have started the process well, with the likes of last year’s star bumper American Mike in great shape, and Cheltenham winner Galvin came out and won at Punchestown recently.

    It’s a long season, but it’s all looking really good at the moment – if it keeps raining we’ll all be happy!

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, publication date Thursday 27 October 2022

    You may also be interested in…

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...