When Davy Russell decided to retire in December, the setting and timing combined for a curious choice.
With due respect to Thurles, a staple of the Irish National Hunt racing calendar, it was a modest venue for the Cork native to call time on his fabulous career, carved from big-race success at the biggest courses on both sides of the Irish Sea.
With Jack Kennedy sadly sustaining a broken leg in early January but only confirmed unavailable for Cheltenham last Friday, it has transpired that Russell will go out on the biggest stage of all next week.
Russell has been nursing his own niggly injuries of late but his experience will be invaluable around the undulations of Prestbury Park, and no other jockey in the weighing room next week has ridden more than his 25 Festival winners.
Speaking at Leopardstown last Sunday, Gordon Elliott confirmed the veteran rider will ride “the bulk” of his horses in Cheltenham, though he does need to “show his face” around the yard this week.
The talented Jordan Gainford will retain the plum ride on Gerri Colombe, hot favourite for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, but Russell is very likely to ride the likes of Mighty Potter, Teahupoo and Delta Work among a generally strong book of rides.
In the white hot heat of the Festival, he has regularly exuded ice cold nerves, often seeing clearer than the majority of his rider rivals.
The pace of races at the Festival is usually hotter than anywhere else, and timing is everything, with the long run down the hill from the back straight and stamina sapping uphill finish.
Some of Russell’s finest moments have come at the track, not least his Gold Cup win on Lord Windermere in 2014. It was one of three winners for him on the day, the other two coming for Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud just four months after he had lost his retainer for the Ryanair boss.
Next week he has a chance to write one more chapter in a brilliant book, and in a way, it’s fitting that some sort of natural justice has prevailed to ensure he has that opportunity.