Davy Russell set for Ascot return if conditions are right

Jockey will ride Paloma Blue following illness, but racing depends on state of track

Davy Russell could return to action on Saturday if Ascot passes an 8am morning inspection.

The triple-champion jockey is set for two rides on the final racing day before Christmas, including the Henry De Bromhead-trained Paloma Blue in a conditions chase.

Russell has been out of action for the last 12 days after feeling ill at Punchestown’s John Durkan Chase fixture on December 8th.

He stood himself down from the Durkan ride on Presenting Percy, but that horse is among his Christmas rides next week, with the Savills Chase on day three of Leopardstown an intended target.


Before that the Cork man also teams up with outsider Agrapart in Saturday’s Grade One Marsh Hurdle – better known as the Long Walk Hurdle – which looks to be dominated by last year’s winner Paisley Park.

However, Paloma Blue will be his priority in a five-runner graduation chase in which Russell rides for owner Chris Jones.

Runner-up to Getabird on his return to action last month, Paloma Blue has among his rivals Riders Onthe Storm, who was denied a run in last weekend’s big Cheltenham handicap due to an administrative error.

Rain-sodden track

However, any clash depends on the rain-sodden track getting passed for racing. Friday’s Ascot action went ahead as planned but only after a snap morning inspection.

“Racing went ahead today after I found some marginal ground and we managed to get round that and racing went ahead successfully,” reported Ascot’s clerk of the course Chris Stickells.

“There is further rain forecast, mainly showers, but 6mm before racing is what I have been forecast.

“The sensible thing is to have a precautionary inspection and we’ll have it at 8am so we can see and get a clear picture of what has happened overnight and what it looks like in the light.

“It is a good draining track but we’ve clearly had an awful lot of rain now. We have had nearly 60mm since last Friday morning so it is a huge amount.

“I wouldn’t know much it could take with having marginal ground like this as it can change very quickly,” he added.

Should racing get a green light there will also be Irish interest in the lucrative Betfair Exchange Trophy as Turnpike Trip is set to run for Co Limerick trainer Charles Byrnes.

Star novice

The five-year-old was an honourable fourth to the star novice Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond at the start of the month and is second topweight in the valuable handicap.

Gordon Elliott’s Bayan was the last Irish-trained winner of the race five years ago.

There is a definite eve of Christmas feel to Saturday’s Thurles fixture, although the chasing debut of no less than the 2015 Melbourne Cup runner-up Max Dynamite in the opener will be of interest.

The Group Two flat winner, who was also third in the Melbourne Cup in 2017, is having his 40th career start in a three-mile Beginners Chase just 10 days shy of his official 10th birthday.

Max Dynamite was last seen against Europe’s top two flat stayers, Stradivarius and Kew Gardens, on British Champions Day.

Very high-class on the flat at his best, a record of a single win from 11 starts over hurdles always seemed to suggest a horse more at home on the level.

If that’s also the case over fences then Discordantly could prove tough to beat given his experience and a significant hike in trip.

Max Dynamite is among half a dozen runners Willie Mullins has at Thurles ahead of unleashing his hugely strong festival team next week.

Two of them, Drury and Rebel Og, line up in a Listed mares hurdle won last year by no less than Honeysuckle.

Christmas targets

Mullins’s Christmas targets will include the King George VI Chase at Kempton where Footpad is set to be ridden by Barry Geraghty.

Footpad, whose regular jockey Daryl Jacob is out injured, is one of just seven declared for Thursday’s showpiece event which Mullins won 18 years ago with Florida Pearl.

The betting is dominated by the Paul Nicholls-trained pair Cyrname and Clan Des Obeaux, although it is Lostintranslation who tops most ante-post lists.

Colin Tizzard’s rising star landed last month’s Betfair Chase and, if successful in the King George, will be in line for a £1 million bonus should he also win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

In other news, Horse Racing Ireland has appointed the former chief executive of the Irish National Stud, John Osborne, to a new position of director of equine welfare and bloodstock.

Osborne had been working since 2017 as CEO of HRI’s racecourses, a position that will now be taken up by its marketing director, Paul Dermody.

“Horse welfare is the single biggest issue facing racing authorities worldwide and John’s appointment reflects the priority which the board of Horse Racing Ireland are putting on it,” HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Friday.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column