The Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider has not been seen in the saddle since dislocating and fracturing vertebrae in a first-fence fall in the Munster National at Limerick in October aboard Doctor Duffy.
The 42-year-old had hoped to return in time for the Cheltenham Festival in March, but ultimately lost his race against time to be fit for the showpiece meeting, while he also decided against a comeback at Punchestown the following month.
Having given himself plenty of time to recover, Russell makes his comeback aboard Gordon Elliott’s The Greek in Friday’s opener in Northern Ireland, before partnering his stablemate The Abbey later in the afternoon.
Russell spoke to Nick Luck about his injuries and recuperation in February
He said: “It’s been delayed a couple of times so it’s great to get there. I feel great.”
Speaking on RTE Radio’s ‘Game On’ programme, Russell admitted the early stages of his recovery were difficult, but insists he never gave up hope of returning to the saddle.
“I just had to accept that I had a serious injury and that it was all about recovering and trying to get back,” he added.
“I found it hard at the start when I couldn’t drive and had to walk everywhere. Then I started cycling. I was trying to do as much exercise as I could because I didn’t want to let my weight go up too much.
“I had a body cast and a neck cast and couldn’t see behind me. It was a relief to get the cast and neck brace off.
“It was a challenge, but there was always light at the end of the tunnel.
“Once the operation went well and the recovery went well, I was always happy I was going to get there.
“I love winning. That’s the one thing I missed. That feeling when you cross the line is irreplaceable really.”
Russell is back during the same week Elliott returned from suspension.
Elliott was banned for 12 months, with half of that punishment suspended, after an image of him sitting on a dead horse was widely circulated on social media in March.
Russell is looking forward to renewing the partnership, saying: “Myself and Gordon work really well together. When he is going I’m a better jockey, so I’m really looking forward to getting back in there.
“His ability to train horses is not in question and he doesn’t have to start at the very bottom where he had done in the past.
“I’d be quite confident he can get back to the level where he left off. He still has a lot of very good owners with him and a lot of nice horses.
“I’ll be treating him the same and a normal human being that understands life in general would treat him the same.”
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