Davy Russell misses out on winning return at Downpatrick

The 42-year-old has been for 11 months with a dislocated and fractured vertebrae

Davy Russell had to make do with minor honours on his long-awaited return to action at Downpatrick.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider had been sidelined since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick last October aboard Doctor Duffy.

The 42-year-old had initially hoped to return in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March, but ultimately lost his race against time to be fit for the showpiece meeting, and ended up being out of action for just over 11 months.

Hopes were high that Russell could make a winning comeback aboard Gordon Elliott's 7-4 favourite The Greek in Downpatrick's opening Bill McIlroy Bookmaker Maiden Hurdle, but he had to settle for the runner-up spot behind Henry de Bromhead's 15-length winner Serenity Grove.


“Yes, it’s great (buzz) and fantastic to be back,” the jockey said afterwards.

“I’ve had a lot of success here and I enjoy coming here — the crowd are very good to me.”

Russell looked likely to go one better on his only other ride of the day, after guiding the Elliott-trained The Abbey to the lead on the run to the second fence from home in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.

But while the 11-2 chance jumped the final obstacle in front, he was eventually reeled in by stablemate Hurricane Georgie and 5lb claimer Jordan Gainford.

Eliott said: “I’d say the weight kicked in up the hill (on The Abbey).

“Jordan gave the winner a nice ride, and she jumped well. That was great.

“She was solid over hurdles, but this race was made for her because she was getting all the allowances.”

Russell will head to Navan on Saturday to ride Chemical Energy, and Coach Carter is then his sole ride on the opening afternoon of the Harvest Festival at Listowel on Sunday.

Great Ambassador and Popmaster, meanwhile, give Ed Walker a formidable hand in the Virgin Bet Ayr Gold Cup.

The trainer of top-class sprinter Starman is excited at the prospect of firing a twin assault on one of the most prestigious sprint handicaps of the season, with the hat-trick seeking Great Ambassador clear at the head of the market.

A close-up third in the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood earlier in the season, the four-year-old has since impressed in handicap company at Newmarket and then in the Listed Garrowby Stakes at York — a victory which earned him a 5lb penalty for Saturday's assignment.

Walker said: “We’ve targeted Great Ambassador at a few of these big races this year, and it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another.

“We’re under no illusions how much luck is required, and he’s actually a pound wrong at the weights. He went up 4lb for winning at York, but carries a 5lb penalty.

“Anyway, I hope this will be his last run in a handicap. He’s in good form, so let’s hope he can pull it off.”

Great Ambassador has already gone up more than a stone in the weights since joining Walker from Ralph Beckett’s yard — and the Lambourn handler admits he has been surprised by how much he has improved this year.

“I never really thought he’d develop into such a good sprinter — but he’s got bags of speed, and I don’t think we’ve got to the bottom of him yet,” Walker added.

“Hopefully he’s got a great chance in what is a wide-open and competitive race.”

Popmaster is an interesting second string to Walker's bow, turning out a fortnight after an impressive win at Ascot under Ryan Moore.

Hollie Doyle takes over in the saddle, while the trainer hopes the application of blinkers will bring about further progress.

Walker said: “Ryan’s advice after at Ascot was that he wasn’t doing much in front, and putting the blinkers on was actually something I’d toyed around with at home. I think it will really help.

“He’s a good horse, Popmaster — and while I think he’ll be better again next year, I’m really looking forward to seeing him run.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run a really good race.”

Michael Dods has been saving Commanche Falls for this race since his Stewards' Cup success in late July.

The Darlington-based trainer is hoping for rain in Scotland to give his charge the best possible chance of claiming a fifth victory in seven starts this season.

“We just thought we’d give him a break after the Stewards’ Cup because he’d had a few hard races,” said Dods.

“He’s in good form. Connor (Beasley) rode him on Wednesday and was very pleased with him.

“Any rain they get would help. If he doesn’t do anything else this year he’s had a good season.”

Dods also saddles outsider Pendleton, of whom he added: "He's a good horse, he just needs a bit of juice in the ground.

"He was second at Ascot and won at York on his first couple of runs this year and just got completely bogged down in the ground in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot and didn't show his form.

“At York last time, the ground was just plenty quick enough for him.

“He’s in good form, but he would want rain.”