Davy Russell ‘pushing hard’ to return for Punchestown

Jockey could have ride on Envoi Allen as he makes comeback from serious back injury

Davy Russell celebrates after winning the 2019 Grand National on Tiger Roll. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

Davy Russell celebrates after winning the 2019 Grand National on Tiger Roll. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

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Davy Russell is “pushing hard” to ride at next week’s Punchestown festival and has described the prospect of riding Envoi Allen again as a “huge incentive” to make it back in time.

The triple-champion jockey has spent almost seven months on the injury sidelines after sustaining serious neck injuries in a fall at Limerick at the start of October.

Russell damaged his C6 and C7 vertebrae as well as dislocating his T1 in a spill from Doctor Duffy in the Munster National that he admitted had been “touch and go” in relation to much more serious harm.

Plans for a return to action in time for Cheltenham had to be shelved in February while the 41-year-old rider has also missed out since on major festival action at Fairyhouse and Aintree.

However he is still targeting next week’s Punchestown action which brings the 2020-21 Irish National Hunt season to a close.

“I’m an awful lot closer and I’m pushing hard to get back for Punchestown if I can,” Russell said on Monday.

The results of scans on his neck later this week will determine whether or not the popular rider can compete at a festival where he has secured major victories in the past such as Sir Des Champs’ victory in the 2013 Punchestown Gold Cup.

“I’m going to see the surgeon this week and I have to go by what the scans say. I feel good in myself. It feels fine. The physio and everybody is happy with it Now it comes down to what the picture says,” he said.

The first of five days at Punchestown begins next Tuesday with Envoi Allen’s potential clash with Monkfish in the Dooley Group Novice Chase one of the likely highlights of the week.

Russell has been unable to ride Envoi Allen this season with Jack Kennedy doing the honours instead, including when the Cheveley Park Stud owned star lost his unbeaten record with a dramatic fall at Cheltenham last month.

The owners have indicated Russell will return to the hot-seat if he gets the all-clear this week.

“It’s a huge incentive. It’s the main driving force behind the whole lot to be honest,” the jockey said on Monday.

In February Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, for whom Russell has ridden many big race winners, including the Grand National twice on Tiger Roll, urged the jockey to retire due to the injury.

However Russell said that even if he is unable to make next week’s action he plans to continue his stellar career next season although there won’t be a rush to return.

“If I can’t get back for Punchestown it will probably be September. That’s what I have in my head,” he said.

Russell’s old ally Tiger Roll is one of seven entries left in Saturday’s Oaksey Chase on the final day of the British National Hunt season at Sandown.

Having missed out on the Grand National over what Michael O’Leary believed to be unfair treatment by the handicapper, Tiger Roll ran instead at Aintree in the Betway Bowl where he was fourth to Clan Des Obeaux.

Afterwards the Aintree stewards looked into the running and riding of the horse they said had “appeared to be tenderly handled throughout.” Explanations from connections were “noted.”

Otherwise potential Irish interest at Sandown looks to revolve around Henry De Bromhead.

His Champion Chase winner Put The Kettle On could take on Altior in the Celebration Chase rather than go to Punchestown next week. Her stable companion Ornua is also among nine entries left in the two mile Grade 1 after Monday’s forfeit stage.

De Bromhead’s Plan Of Attack is one of 20 left in the big handicap prize, the Bet365 Gold Cup.

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