There's an irony in Willie Mullins supplying Davy Russell with the winner that might seal the jockeys championship but after Sir Des Champs landed yesterday evening's Tote Punchestown Gold Cup Russell's mood was straight-forwardly grateful.
Considering Britain’s racing authorities believe he shouldn’t be racing at all, Russell didn’t cut too shabby a figure in getting Sir Des Champs home half a length in front of his cross-channel rival Long Run in the Day Two festival feature.
It was a thrilling bounce-back from a Cheltenham Gold Cup defeat to Bob's Worth that Russell endured watching from a hospital bed due to a punctured lung, the impact of which continues to divide Anglo-Irish medical opinion.
The Turf Club’s decision to allow Russell continue to ride until the end of the season, and defend his jockeys title from any last-week surge by Ruby Walsh, is markedly at odds with the British authorities view that he shouldn’t be allowed ride with such an injury.
They prevented Russell from riding in Liverpool earlier in the month, still a sore point for the Cork man, who after yesterday's success leads by Walsh by eight (101-93) with just three days to go.
'Good to me'
"The Irish medical team have been very good to me, and very fair. What I have is a very straight-forward thing and I've gone down all the proper channels with it, because I want to make sure I'm okay too.
“I’m expecting the surgeon to get in touch in the next 10 days with a date to go in for an operation where they will basically stitch up some blisters. And I’ll be out for two or three weeks. It’s all very straight-forward,” he said.
Possibly only a jump jockey could be so blasé about the impact of a punctured lung but Russell’s determination to hang on to his title was just one reason for satisfaction yesterday.
A first prize of €90,000 could also be important in his employers, Gigginstown Stud, regaining the owners title. Another Grade One prize is never to be sniffed at for such a powerful operation. And there was also confirmation that another crack at the Cheltenham Gold Cup is still very much on the radar for Sir Des Champs next year.
“We’ll try and go back there, maybe adapt a few things and hope for the best,” said Willie Mullins, normally the source of Walsh’s winners, but who turned to Tony McCoy at Cheltenham last month when Russell was ruled out.
The view that Sir Des Champs takes a bit of knowing, and requires more subtlety than strength from the saddle, will have been reinforced by yesterday’s race as he looked beaten at one stage, only to come back on the bridle and poach a decisive lead after the third last.
“A quality ride,” was Mullins’s description while owner Michael O’Leary reached for “masterful”. Russell himself passed all praise to the horse.
“He’s tough physically to come back from Cheltenham, and mentally too. I was a little worried it might have left its mark but then when I asked him to go through a gap he showed the pace a good horse has. I was never worried up the straight,” he said.
Long Run closed all the way to the line, with jockey Sam Waley-Cohen performing a neat recovery catch with his dropped whip after the second last, but Sir Des Champs added the prize to his Hennessy victory in February.
The Liquidator was the sole English raider in the Grade One Betdaq Champion Bumper but proved much too good for the home team in a race where the Cheltenham winner Briar Hill missed out due to lameness.
Jane Mangan guided David Pipe's runner to success and the trainer said: "She came well recommended and gave the horse a fantastic ride. It probably helped the favourite coming out but our horse is a real trier."
Co Carlow-based trainer Pat Fahy had been trying without much success all season but it all came right when Morning Assembly sprang a 14 to 1 surprise in the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.
Fahy has tasted Grade One success before with Mariah Rollins and Butches Boy but had saddled just a couple of winners this season until Davy Condon rallied Morning Assembly from the last to overhaul Inish Island.
“It’s been such a slack season and we had to stick with this horse after Fairyhouse when he disappointed us. But he’s such a dour stayer and that’s what paid off for him today,” Fahy said. “I would imagine he’ll go chasing. He’ll respect a fence more.”
Condon later doubled up in the Guinness Handicap Chase when Klepht stayed on stoutly to repel Tranquil Seas.