Magnificent Russell good bet to top pile at Cheltenham
Davy Russell stole the show at Naas on Saturday with a short-priced four-timer and departing the Kildare venue without a single defeat to stain his afternoon's work.
At the close of play, the reigning champion's tally of 78 left him eight clear of Ruby Walsh, prompting one bookmaker to cut him to 8/13 from 4/5 to retain his title.
Given the array of imponderables and pitfalls that are a routine part of every jump jockey's life, that was a fairly typical PR-driven over-reaction with more than three months of hard falls still ahead.
If there is a long-term Russell bet of interest, it is the 16/1 that can be had about him topping the pile at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
His exploits on Saturday were another reminder of the depth of talent that he has at his disposal, with the Willie Mullins-trained Un Atout's bloodless Irish Racing Writers Novice Hurdle victory setting up a possible William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle tilt – via the Deloitte at Leopardstown in three weeks' time.
Solwhit has the Ladbrokes World Hurdle as an option following his ready coup in the Limestone Lad Hurdle, with Charles Byrnes also considering Aintree and France for the fit-again 2010 Irish Champion Hurdle hero.
Dessie Hughes' Tofino Bay would be fully entitled to its place in the RSA Chase after relegating poor old Aupcharlie to another excruciating defeat in the Woodlands Park 100 Club Novice Chase, though his preference for testing going means that the Dr PJ Moriarty will also be first up on Hennessy Gold Cup day.
The Youghal man's initial winner at Naas, Morning Assembly, is Albert Bartlett bound, but Pat Fahy could need a different jockey come March, as the Gigginstown Stud-owned Rule The World and Road To Riches are contenders for Russell's main employer.
Bog Warrior, Sword Of Destiny, Don Cossack, Un Beau Matin and Si C'Etait Vrai are others that would travel to Prestbury Park with a degree of expectation – and then there's the heavy artillery.
Sir Des Champs could win the Betfred Gold Cup, likewise First Lieutenant. If they split the load, one of them could claim the Ryanair Chase. All told, then, 16/1 looks big about Russell.
The other thing that sprung to mind after watching the 33-year-old showcase the full range of his sublime riding skills, courtesy of a dogged drive to get Tofino Bay back up having made the running and three variously calm, assured odds-on deliveries on the others, was what a tremendous champion he has been.
Russell wears his crown lightly and he wears it well. Once, ravaged by weight problems, criticism of his then unrefined style, tactical stubbornness and various other normal human insecurities, he often cut a sullen figure.
However, he has always been uniquely gifted, independent, single-minded and ruthless and it was one of the many triumphs of Touchline Media's TG4 documentary 'Jump Boys' that viewers got such a candid and enlightening insight into the pain-staking journey he had traversed to the summit.
Russell spoke with refreshing honesty about how he used to struggle to channel his anger and frustration positively. In the end, providing an ideal arc for the filmmakers, Russell fulfilled the objective of his odyssey by landing the title and he was, by his own admission, an altogether more rounded pro by then.
Walsh and Barry Geraghty also came across really well in the documentary, but, if the 'Jump Boys' IFTA nomination results in an award, Russell's input will have been key.
He is one of the weigh room's most intriguing characters, an unlikely icon whose injuries and vulnerabilities added a cathartic strand to his eventual coronation. It's great to have such a nuanced champion in our midst.
Lyons clocks up ton to underline class
Ger Lyons became the first trainer to clock 100 winners at Dundalk when Tocatta Blue ground out a win under Emmet McNamara on Friday night.
It was a tremendous milestone, a typically hard-earned achievement that is testament to the consistency that has enabled the Co Meath stable to establish its reputation as one of the most progressive in the country.
On Friday, this corner referred to Mick Halford as the track's leading handler, an inaccuracy even more regrettable in light of its timing.
When the facility opened in 2007, Lyons eagerly embraced it, his 2008 haul of 33 still the calendar year record ahead of Halford's 31 in 2012.
In the three years up to 2012, Halford outscored his colleague by 58 to 34 and now stands on 89, with the increasing number of contests catering for horses rated below 65 limiting opportunities for Lyons, whose stated policy is to not persist with such moderate animals.
Since the onset of winter racing, the emphasis on low-quality fare becoming more common at Dundalk was inevitable.
In that context, Lyons, currently on tour with a select team in Dubai, won't be unduly worried if his current status as the all-weather kingpin comes under threat.
workers dispute mars dundalk fixture
Dundalk's Friday night card began 45 minutes late after stalls handlers refused to work until they had written confirmation from Horse Racing Ireland that they were insured.
Given that it was the only meeting either side of the Irish Sea to survive that day, it was a lamentable dispute, and there was more negative Dundalk-related news when it was revealed that the €110 allowance paid to stable staff who travel more than 80km to the evening fixtures is to be cut to €50.
The original figure was intended to compensate for the unsociable hours, but many struggling trainers are apparently unable to pay.
Still, a cut of 55pc seems very steep given how long a Friday can be if you start at 7.0am and are responsible for a runner in the 9.20 that night.
Gibson's Gold-Fun hits Hong Kong heights
Gold-Fun, known as Strada Colorato when successful in a Naas maiden for Ger Lyons in April, landed the Group One Hong Kong Classic Mile at Sha Tin yesterday for locally based trainer Richard Gibson.
The horse's new owner Pan Sutong also owns the former John Oxx-trained Akeed Mofeed now, while Irish-breds were narrowly denied a big-race double when Dan Excel, or Dunboyne Express as he was known when successful in Leopardstown's 2,000 Guineas trial in 2010, finished second in the Group One Stewards' Cup over the same trip.
Fairyhouse called off
THE meeitng scheduled for Fairyhouse yesterday was lost due to waterlogging after the track was hit with more than an inch of rain overnight.
In snow-covered Britain, there has been no jumping since Thursday, with Ayr, Exeter and Catterick offering the soonest hopes of a resumption on Wednesday.
5 Record number of Thyestes Chases won by Tom Dreaper, which Willie Mullins would equal if one of his four entries is successful in the Gowran Park feature on Thursday. Arthur Moore has also won the prestigious handicap four times, but has no entry this year.
@paulcarberry – At least some people have brains in their heads and don't talk through their pockets, cheers guys – Paul Carberry acknowledges the support he received after being on the end of the sort of barbed, unsavoury sniping that Twitter facilitates for his ride on Tony Martin's one-paced Matsukaze at Naas.