DAVY Russell returns to his Yorkshire racing roots today to partner Crabbie’s Grand National contender Burton Port at Doncaster.
The Irish jockey served his apprenticeship with West Witton trainer Ferdy Murphy before returning to the Emerald Isle to become a highly successful No 1 jockey to Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, a partnership that ended on New Year’s Eve when the rider was usurped by racing’s ‘boy wonder’ Bryan Cooper.
Russell was, however, keen to quell the notion that his Doncaster alliance with the Trevor Hemmings-owned stayer in today’s veterans’ chase is a dress rehearsal for Aintree in April.
He said: “I don’t think that is anything to do with it. It’s a bit of a coincidence more than anything. Jonjo (O’Neill) rang me the other day and asked me if I’d ride him.
“He’s 10, but he’s not had that much racing and has a lot of ability.”
Burton Port was not far off top class in his pomp, finishing fourth in a Gold Cup and second in a RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival when trained by Nicky Henderson.
His form since transferring to O’Neill’s yard last October is less inspiring, but Burton Port remains a lively ante-post outsider for the National for which he must carry 10st 8lb.
Despite its veteran status, the Betdaq-sponsored race has attracted some extremely smart thoroughbreds including top weight Massini’s Maguire, who returns to the track following a 732-day absence.
The 13-year-old, who is entered in the the National, will be having his first run for Welsh trainer Tim Vaughan who said: “The idea is to see if he’s still in love with the job.”
Further National clues could be on offer in the handicap hurdle when Henderson saddles Shakalakaboomboom, one of his Aintree contenders.
Meanwhile, the juvenile hurdle is likely to reveal more about Malton trainer John Quinn’s Pearl Castle and his Cheltenham target – the horse holds entries in both the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the JCB Triumph Hurdle that is restricted to four-year-olds.
As indicated yesterday, Fill The Power returned to winning ways at Wetherby for The McGoldrick Partnership, a racing syndicate run by Leeds-based Richard Longley.
The Sue Smith-trained stayer won the Ben Atkinson Handicap Chase by 18 lengths as Ryan Mania took his tally of winners for the season to 42, a new personal best.
This was a poignant win for the Smith stable – it took this race 12 months ago with Coverholder, who suffered a fatal injury in the Towton Novices’ Chase earlier this month. Fill The Power finished fifth behind Godsmejudge in the Scottish National last season and looks on course for another tilt at the big handicap.
“What happened to Coverholder just can’t be helped, but the horses are very fit at the moment and, providing the handicapper doesn’t go mad, he’ll go for the Scottish Grand National again,” said the trainer’s husband Harvey.
As for the winning jockey, Mania has also been praised by former champion jockey Peter Scudamore for taking his career to a new level after last April’s Grand National winner on the now retired Auroras Encore.
“It can be a solitary day in the sun ... he seems to have thrived on the experience,” said Scudamore.
“He looks like a jockey riding with belief and confidence.”
There were also successes on the card for Middleham trainers.
Simon West’s Captain Clayton was a first career winner for Grimsby jockey Ryan Clark, 23, who only sat on a horse for the first time seven years ago, while Lady Buttons took the concluding Bumper for Phil Kirby and jockey Adam Nicol.
n David Pipe feels the Tom Scudamore-ridden Un Temps Pour Tout is a “live candidate” for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham following his easy win at Ascot on Saturday.
Although he will consider giving the pricey French recruit an entry in the Coral Cup, connections are, at this stage, leaning towards the Neptune.
“Although he did no more than win as he rating suggested he should, I was pleased to get his first British win under our belts,” said Pipe.
Timmy Murphy is out of the Cheltenham Festival as the jockey recovers from a second dislocated shoulder injury in three months.
He had been due to partner runaway Wetherby winner Red Sherlock in the Neptune for the Pipe team.