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Returning Russell lands Grade 1 Mildmay

Gerri Colombe and Davy RussellGerri Colombe and Davy Russell
© Photo Healy Racing

Gerri Colombe put a narrow Cheltenham Festival reverse behind him with a dominant victory in the Air Charter Service Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree under Davy Russell.

The Gordon Elliott-trained seven-year-old won two bumpers, two novices hurdles and his first three starts over fences, ensuring he was a hot favourite to maintain his unbeaten record in last month’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in the Cotswolds.

Gerri Colombe came off second-best in a titanic tussle with The Real Whacker at Cheltenham, going down by a short head, and was a 4-6 shot to reward those who kept the faith.

And anyone who took the cramped odds will have had few concerns for the duration of the extended three-mile contest, with Elliott’s charge travelling as smooth as silk for much of the way and moving ominously into the slipstream of Galia Des Liteaux early in the home straight.

Once asked to go about his business, Gerri Colombe readily extended clear and Russell saluted the crowd as his mount passed the post with seven and a half lengths in hand over the Paul Nicholls-trained Complete Unknown

It was a notable success for the veteran rider, who called time on his glittering career in December only to return in the new year to fill in for the sidelined Jack Kennedy.

Russell endured a frustrating week at Cheltenham, standing himself down before he was due to take the ride on Elliott’s Conflated in the Gold Cup, but thrust himself back into the big-race spotlight aboard the exciting Gerri Colombe, who looks a Gold Cup horse in the making.

Of going on to Aintree, Russell said: “Gordon was the instigator. I was finished and he wasn’t happy with me finishing the way I finished. I was done, I was finished — again! And he wasn’t happy with the way the ending was and he said he wanted me to ride here.

“That’s great. All your life you’re trying to please trainers and owners, put yourself out there and let them know you’re the person for the job.

“It’s a tough sport, there are no pats on the back at all — you’re up, you’re down, you’re in, you’re out. You never get a pat on the back, you just have to keep moving on to the next day. When someone as high-profile as Gordon gives you a pat on the back or kick in the backside that you need, that’s the part of your career you have you make it work.

“I’m lucky that for the last couple of years Gordon has been behind me all the way, and his huge team of staff.”

Elliott was delighted to gain compensation for the Gerri Colombe’s Cheltenham defeat.

He said: “He’s a good horse. We were disappointed after Cheltenham. We felt he was the best horse in the race and that proved it today.

“He’s a horse to be excited about next year.”

Owner Brian Acheson felt The Real Whacker was a deserved victor last month, but is keen to see what the future holds for Gerri Colombe,

He said: “The one thing I will say, on the day at Cheltenham I felt the best horse won on the day, he jumped better than us and Sam (Twiston-Davies) got a great tune out of him.

“He’s come back and won today, let’s see where he goes from there.

“In fairness to Jordan (Gainford, jockey) at Cheltenham, he was possibly a bit intimidated by the new whip rules. He’s Jordan’s ride if Jack isn’t there and Davy retires. but I just think it possibly caught him out, but on the day at Cheltenham the best horse won, The Real Whacker is a very good horse.

“Every day is a learning day with him, he’s won eight out of nine now. I read somewhere today someone said he was unreliable, well I wouldn’t mind a few more unreliable types.

“The ground today was the same as Sandown, he doesn’t need it very soft.”

Nicholls was more than satisfied with Complete Unknown and expects him to be a stayer next term.

He said: “The track didn’t suit us that well and he was a bit flat out. But I loved the way he galloped all the way to the line. Races like the Welsh National and the Hennessy should be just the job for him next season.”