Punchestown: Russell return may be key to Mallowney success

Old rival Twinlight among trio of horses from all-conquering Willie Mullins team

Davy Russell guides Mallowney to victory in the Handicap Steeplechase at Punchestown last year. Mallowney is joint-top rated on 162. Photograph: Inpho

Davy Russell guides Mallowney to victory in the Handicap Steeplechase at Punchestown last year. Mallowney is joint-top rated on 162. Photograph: Inpho

 

Davy Russell is aiming for a Grade One return to action on board Mallowney in the Punchestown Festival’s Day One feature and it could prove a key ingredient to the horse’s big-race chances.

It is just over a month since the former dual-champion jockey fractured an arm in a fall at Gowran but Russell has made it back in time for the season finale and no one is likely to be happier about that than Mallowney’s trainer Tim Doyle.

The Co Tipperary handler has described Russell as having “the key” to the nine-year-old chaser who looked a transformed character during the winter with two wins under Russell that could hardly have been more impressive. Mallowney turned a €100,000 Fairyhouse handicap in January into a procession and followed it up with an effortless Grade Two win at Naas which ordinarily would have had Cheltenham promise written all over it.

Doyle refused to be budged however from a plan to bypass the festival in favour of Fairyhouse and Punchestown, a plan that got a rough jolt earlier when Mallowney got beaten at 1-2 by Twinlight in a Normans Grove where Paul Carberry took over from the injured Russell. There didn’t appear any obvious reason for that defeat, bar Twinlight being on a major “go-day”, but Mallowney, who is owned by the controversial politician, Michael Lowry, looked so good for Russell earlier in the campaign that forgiving that last start could be a profitable route to take in the €200,000 Boylesports Champion Chase.

Mullins challenge

Willie Mullins

The wonderful 13-year-old veteran is aiming to add to wins in this race in 2012 and last year, while his overall race record was only enhanced by chasing home Sprinter Sacre in 2013. A third victory could be a perfect “last-hurrah” for Sizing Europe in what has been one of the stalwart careers in modern racing history.

Almost as popular though would be a maiden Grade One for Hidden Cyclone and his trainer “Shark” Hanlon who has put first-time blinkers on the horse who has been runner up four times at the top level over fences. The presence of Andrew McNamara, whose brother Robbie continues to fight back from serious spinal injury, on Hidden Cyclone will only add to the goodwill but on balance it looks worth taking a chance on Russell working his magic on Mallowney.

True two-miler

Russell begins his comeback when riding topweight The Game Changer in the handicap hurdle but it looks unlikely another former dual-champion, Barry Geraghty, will make it back in time from a fractured shin to ride this week. “I haven’t had the green light as yet,” Geraghty said. “It (the injury) is still not fully weight-bearing. There’s a small chance I could be back at the end of the week, but it’s only a small chance.”

Nico De Boinville takes over on last year’s winner Cool Macavity in the handicap for Nicky Henderson, a race in which Ruby Walsh has chosen Rupert Lamb who is lurking at the bottom of the ratings. Walsh is chasing a record-equalling 10th jockeys championship but this may not be one of his best opportunities to extend a four-winner lead over Mark Walsh and each-way punters could do worse than side with Dysios who returns from a stint over fences.

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