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Davy Russell poses with hi trophy after riding Lord Windermere to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Photo: Patrick McCann

Davy Russell poses with hi trophy after riding Lord Windermere to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Photo: Patrick McCann

Cheltenham Gold Cup winning partnership of Dr Ronan Lambe, Jim Culloty and Davy Russell reunite to win at Thurles with Prince Of Lombardy in the Devil's Bit Maiden Hurdle Thurles. Photo: Patrick McCann

Cheltenham Gold Cup winning partnership of Dr Ronan Lambe, Jim Culloty and Davy Russell reunite to win at Thurles with Prince Of Lombardy in the Devil's Bit Maiden Hurdle Thurles. Photo: Patrick McCann

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Davy Russell poses with hi trophy after riding Lord Windermere to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Photo: Patrick McCann

"I JUST don't know," was a definitive line in Davy Russell's immediate post-Gold Cup interview seconds after he pulled up Lord Windermere after winning the most prestigious of jump races.

It was a line that helped capture Russell's overriding emotions as the two-time champion jockey in Ireland silenced any doubters to claim National Hunt's blue riband race just months after he had endured one of the sport's most high-profile sackings.

You could fill a page with 'ifs' when it comes to jump racing but if Michael O'Leary had not called the Youghal native into the little trainers' canteen in the corner of the pre-parade ring at Punchestown on New Year's Eve and informed him his services were no longer required on a full-time basis under the Gigginstown banner, Davy Russell would not have spent the last week touring the Cheltenham Gold Cup around the south of Ireland.

Russell's post-race comments were both refreshing and educational for any sportsperson trying to carve a route to the top.

"It's an ill wind that doesn't blow you away," Russell said. "It's a lesson for anyone in life – keep your head down and crack on."

TRIUMPH

It was almost a week on from the 34-year-old's biggest triumph in the saddle and, fittingly, when he spoke to The Herald yesterday at Thurles he was wearing the same purple and yellow colours of Dr Ronan Lambe as he was about to ride, and subsequently win, on Prince Of Lombardy for Lord Windermere's trainer Jim Culloty.

"I can't stop watching the video of the race (Gold Cup) to be honest and I watched it again this morning and it probably only really sunk in then."

Russell's Facebook and Twitter feeds have been extremely refreshing in the last week or so as he continues to post pictures of himself, his proud family and well-wishers who are all lining up to congratulate him with the Gold Cup itself.

The opening three days of the Festival hadn't produced much for Russell's scrapbook and it looked destined to be a meeting to forget. Three falls, three pulled-up, a non-runner, a couple unplaced and Morning Assembly finishing third in the RSA was the lot of Ireland's champion jockey on the biggest stage there is.

But that was all prior to Friday, when his fortunes turned dramatically. A role reversal to what was so often the case when Russell held the number one job at Gigginstown, Russell came in for the spare on Tiger Roll in the Triumph Hurdle as Bryan Cooper was injured.

"I kept getting falls and that and the only saving grace was Pat Fahy's Morning Assembly who did run his race and is a lovely horse and we do think quite a bit of him.

"But you've to take every day as it comes over there because everyday you have a new set of horses and you have to be trying to ride at your best."

Russell was quick to hand credit to his former boss, though, for letting him take the ride on Tiger Roll.

"Tiger Roll was brilliant and, look, you can say what you like about me losing the job but all credit has to go to Gordon (Elliott, trainer) first of all for letting me ride the horse and Michael O'Leary to say it was okay for me to ride the horse.

"I'm sure Michael O'Leary didn't make up his mind overnight for me to stop riding the horses and for him to turn full circle and put me back on the horse – you must give him some credit for that as well."

Russell's confidence never wavered but he understood that having the current crown as champion jockey meant little or nothing but the continued support of his old allies was vital.

"In the sport we are in, that (being champion jockey) is forgotten very fast. That's just the cruel reality of sport and racing anyway but when I did lose the job Jim Culloty said to me: 'I'm delighted anyway because Lord Windermere is there' and the people like Pat Fahy and Charles Byrnes, who are very good trainers and who used me when I was at my worst, are still standing by me now and that means a lot to me."

To the latest man to etch his name into the Gold Cup winning jockey roll of honour, Cheltenham is the be all and end all.

"It's hard to put into words. My Dad has been going to Cheltenham all his life and as kids we regarded Cheltenham as this special place even before I was ever involved in horses. And then to have success over there and know what a difference it makes to your career, and then to win 'the race' overrides everything."

But ask Davy Russell how winning 'the race' otherwise known as the Cheltenham Gold Cup compares to being twice champion jockey of Ireland after knocking on the door for a number of years and you've to wait for the answer.

A long pause is followed by: "It's hard ... it's very hard to answer but I never got the feeling like I got at the top of the hill anyway."

A winner at Thurles yesterday before going to a Shave Or Dye event at the Curragh last night will be followed by an appearance at a Donkey Derby in Youghal this evening.

Losing the role as Gigginstown's number one didn't change Davy Russell and nor will winning the Gold Cup.


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