CHELTENHAM FEVER is rampant and Davy Russell isn't looking for a cure.He loves every aspect of the festival and is gearing himself up for the off. As retained jockey to Gigginstown House Stud he has plenty to look forward to when the finishing touches are completed and preview nights, at which he is a regular and popular panellist, are put to bed for another year. Russell has ridden eight winners at the festival, four of them for Gigginstown - Weapon's Amnesty (twice), First Lieutenant and Carlito Brigante. The last pair are on the teamsheet again this year, and with Michael O'leary's powerful squad also expected to include Bog Warrior (ground permitting), Sir Des Champs, Midnight Game and Trifolium, Russell has much to look forward to despite the enforced absence of star novice chaser Last Instalment, a dual Grade 1 winner this season. Russell, 32, first rode at the festival as an amateur 12 years ago. 'It was all about point-to-points for me at that time and I was too busy to go to Cheltenham until Tom O'mahony recommended me for the ride on Ferdy Murphy's Toni's Tip in the Kim Muir Chase in 2000. I finished sixth,' says Russell, who would have to wait six years before his first winner at the meeting. When injury forced Adrian Maguire to retire from his position as Murphy's retained rider, Russell replaced him and spent two seasons in Britain, riding a total of 50 winners. He recalls: 'I rode Truckers Tavern to finish second to Best Mate in the 2003 Gold Cup. I thought and hoped I would ride a festival winner for Ferdy but that didn't happen until a few years later.' During his spell with Murphy, Russell made frequent trips home to maintain links with several trainers, a move which paid off when homebird Russell wanted to return to Ireland in 2004. Murphy and Russell's relationship, however, has stayed strong and they have combined for two festival successes. Russell says: 'I found Cheltenham a bit daunting when I first rode at the festival. I knew it was big and very important, but Ferdy never reminded me of just how big it was and didn't heap pressure on me. 'Over the years I've tried to treat each day at the festival as just another raceday. I broke my duck at the meeting in 2006 when Native Jack won the cross-country chase. I realise some people regard it as only a minor race in the general scheme of things but getting on the board at Cheltenham was huge for me. 'I didn't ride a festival winner for Ferdy when I worked with him and it was the same story when I was riding for Edward O'grady. My career hit a bit of a lull and I wondered if a Cheltenham winner would ever come. When Native Jack won it was a big relief but I didn't know whether it would be the first of many or my only festival winner.' He needn't have worried. A year later Russell rode the Murphy-trained Joes Edge to win the William Hill Handicap Chase and in 2008 he landed the Coral Cup for the same trainer on Naiad Du Misselot and the Grand Annual Chase on Tiger Cry for Arthur Moore.' Russell's big break and the job offer to ride for Gigginstown arrived out of the blue in September 2007. Russell says: 'I got a call from Eddie O'leary, Michael's brother, asking me to meet them at Dublin airport. I was heading north to ride at Downpatrick and I didn't know what they wanted to discuss. When they told me they wanted to offer me a job, I turned it down as I was afraid I might lose rides for other trainers on good horses I'd become associated with. 'We parted, but I wasn't long on the road when I pulled in, rang Eddie back and told him I had changed my mind. There was no problem. I was going to be their number one but they weren't going to insist on having me if I had a better ride in a particular race. 'With Gigginstown everything is geared towards Grade 1 races. I have an input when it comes to targeting races but others make the decisions. I like to concentrate on getting to know the young horses prepared by Pat Doyle at Holycross [County Tipperary], and I'm involved in the early schooling and important work days when those horses go to different trainers. 'It's a real team operation and the tricky time for me is when we have more than one runner in a race and I have to decide who to ride. A few of those decisions are going to occupy my mind over the next week or so.' His association with Gigginstown has seen Russell's profile grow in recent seasons, but he reacts with a wry smile when the subject of the Irish jump jockeys' championship is mentioned. Russell has finished in the top four in the table for seven seasons in a row and has been runner-up in each of the last five campaigns, behind Ruby Walsh on four occasions and Paul Townend last season. Mr Consistency he might be but having lost out by four to Townend last year and by five to Walsh in the 2007-08 season when he rode a career best 126 winners, Russell is taking nothing for granted despite leading Walsh by 13 (91 to 78) with two months of the season to go. Russell says: 'It would be very easy to say that when I retire and look back on my career that never being champion wouldn't matter much, but that wouldn't be true. I'd love to win the title and if it happens I won't be wanting to give it back. But I know from experience just how hard it is to achieve. I doubt anyone other than Richard Johnson knows just how hard it is . 'I've always known that to be champion I'll have to be lucky and others unlucky. The season ends on the last day of the Punchestown festival and when you consider the firepower Willie Mullins has at his disposal and his record at the meeting in recent years I will have to have a doublefigure lead if I'm going to hold off Ruby. 'Everyone knows how good he is and although I have a clear lead now, I'll struggle to hold on.' Russell admits that while well meaning words of encouragement are appreciated they can also be irritating. 'I know they mean well but it's very hard to listen to people who say this is going to be my year. I've been listening to those words for a long time and it hasn't happened yet.' Race-riding is a job Russell thoroughly enjoys but it is the breeding side that he describes as his passion. He says: 'I come from a part of County Cork where breeding horses is a way of life. My father [Jerry] has long been involved in that side of the game. It is my passion and I still have plenty of contact with people I met at the sales and visited farms in my younger days. 'I love buying young stock and selling them on and I breed a few myself. I have a colt foal by Oscar out of a Turtle Island mare from the family of Colonel Braxton and I recently sold a foal sister to Sprinter Sacre at the sales in Fairyhouse.' Russell will travel to Cheltenham on the Sunday before the festival. He says: 'I love to get there to ride out on Monday morning. It's very important to get an idea how a horse has taken the journey over. They don't all take the travelling well, but I'll always remember Tiger Cry as an example of how a horse can take to the place. 'Going over I wasn't that confident about his chance in the Grand Annual, but when he got there he thrived. In the space of three days he turned inside out and that gave me a lot of confidence. Previous form over the course means a lot but those early mornings on the racecourse gallops can be very informative.' When this year's festival is over Russell will return to the day-to-day routine of chasing that elusive title. While he will be giving it his all and he is determined to see his name on top of the pile, Walsh will be bearing down on him and experience has taught Russell to expect nothing. Whatever the outcome it won't be easy.