Davy Russell is a name synonymous with National Hunt racing. From the Cheltenham Gold Cup to the Grand National, the veteran jockey has pretty much won it all — and he sailed off into the sunset at 43 years of age, announcing his immediate retirement before even dismounting Liberty Dance following her Mares Novice Hurdle victory at Thurles Racecourse in December.
Or so it seemed. Following a nasty leg break for Gordon Elliott’s new number one jockey Jack Kennedy, which looks set to keep the 23-year-old out of action for a while, Russell made the decision to come back out of retirement just three weeks after he officially hung up the whip.
With Kennedy in a race against time to be fit for the Cheltenham Festival in March, it looks like Russell might have one last dance at the iconic Prestbury Park meeting — which would present the punters the perfect opportunity to give the legend of the sport the send off he deserves.
The 43-year-old hasn’t won a race at the Festival since his three victories in 2020, as he missed the 2021 renewal due to a broken vertebrae before firing blanks 12 months ago. If the opportunity presents itself to go to Cheltenham as Elliott’s first choice jockey next month, then Russell will surely be confident he can add to his 25 winners at the meeting.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of his best chances at the Festival.
The most obvious horse to start with is Delta Work. The Gigginstown House Stud-owned 10-year-old ruined Tiger Roll’s swansong last year at Cheltenham, dramatically winning the Cross Country Chase in what was the dual Grand National champion’s swansong.
The stablemates went hoof-to-hoof up the hill, but Kennedy and Delta Work pipped Tiger Roll and Russell to the line as boos rang out from the stands at the finish — even Michael O’Leary, the owner of both horses, was unhappy with the result.
That’s in the past now though. This year, Russell could be in the saddle of Delta Work and the 10-year-old is one of Elliott’s likeliest winners at 11/10 in the horse betting online to defend his Cross Country crown.
We’re sure Russell would love to win another Grade 1 at the Festival, and his best chance of doing that appears to come in the form of Mighty Potter. The six-year-old pulled up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year before winning the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown the following month from 20/1.
He has since switched to chasing, and is two for two over fences so far this season — winning the Down Royal Beginners Chase before besting Gaillard Du Mesnil in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in December.
Mighty Potter is the 3/1 favorite to win the Turners Novices’ Chase on the penultimate day of Cheltenham, but those odds could fluctuate depending on how he fares against James Du Berlaid and El Fabiolo in the Grade 1 Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Elliott’s hand at the Cheltenham Festival certainly isn’t as strong as it once was, but he still boasts another close to favoritism in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase — where Gerri Colombe comes in at 6/1 alongside the aforementioned Gaillard Du Mesnil, but narrowly behind The Real Whacker (9/2) in the Grade 1’s ante-post market.
Unbeaten in all six of his rules races, winning two on the flat, two over hurdles and now two over fences this season — including the Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Boxing Day — the seven-year-old is a good prospect.
However, this is big step up in trip for Gerri Colombe and he could struggle against Gaillard Du Mesnil — who has won over three miles and half a furlong before — and The Real Whacker, who has course and distance form after landing a Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in November.