Youghal jockey, Davy Russell, talks exclusively to Colm Keane and Una O’Hagan about his life in racing as well as his affection, and respect, for double-Aintree Grand National winner, Tiger Roll.
It rained on the Thursday before the 2019 Grand National. It rained again on the Friday and the going at Aintree was soft. Then, on Friday evening, the rain stopped. Among those closely observing the conditions was jockey, Davy Russell.
“The rain on Thursday and Friday was bucketing down,” he recalls.
“On Friday evening, the sun started shining and on Saturday the ground dried up just perfect.
“As the day went on, I started thinking, ‘you know, this could happen, it really could happen. This could be our day’.”
On that Saturday in April, Davy Russell and Tiger Roll stood to make racing history. The previous year, they had won the Grand National in a nail-biting photo finish.
With victory in 2019, the horse would become the first since Red Rum to achieve back-to-back triumphs at the prestigious event.
“Everyone was saying there was just one horse, and that’s Tiger Roll, and he’s going to do it,” Davy remembers. “I was saying these people are delusional, do they not realise this is the Grand National? But, then again, there are not many horses like Tiger Roll.”
Few people know Tiger Roll better than Davy Russell. Since they were first paired in 2014, the Youghal-born jockey has admired his qualities.
“He’s an amazing horse,” Davy says of the small, handsome bay gelding, with his white star and glowing personality. “He has an unbelievable mind. Nothing fazes him. He wins from two miles to four and a quarter miles. He jumps hurdles and in the same season jumps fences. He can jump a Grand National fence one day and the next day jump a hurdle as if he was running in the Champion Hurdle. I’ve never come across a horse before that was able to do that.
“He has an uncanny way of measuring his obstacles. He measures them to the millimetre.
“If he jumps one that’s two foot, he skims across the top of it. But if he jumps one that’s five foot, he skims across the top of it too. If he went over a wooden railing, he would not give it a millimetre.
“Yet, if he came up to a bullfinch, which is kind of see-through, he’d go right through it. Some horses would try to jump over it, and it’s quite tall, but he’d go straight through it. I don’t know how he does it.
“He’s an unbelievable character. He likes to be given room. If someone else was riding him and you came up behind him he’d kick you if you stood there long enough. He would give you a warning, but then he’d kick you. He’d be letting you know that you’re not supposed to stand there.
“If you stood outside his door for long enough, he’d come out over the door, his ears back, not deliberately to bite you, but if you didn’t move he would bite you. He’s the boss, no doubt about it.’
The pair had first come together at Cheltenham in 2014, where they won the Triumph Hurdle by more than three lengths.
“That was a huge part of my career,” Davy recollects. “It was the last day of the festival and I had no winner ridden. I had one ride left. Tiger Roll’s rider got injured and Gordon (Gordon Elliott, Tiger Roll’s trainer) confirmed that they wanted me to ride him, and he won. That was the first time I sat on him. I felt he was a good horse but I walked away from him in 2014 saying I would never ride him again. I just didn’t think I’d get the opportunity.”