Donn's Articles » Robbie Power
Robbie Power was eight years old when he watched the 1990 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He remembers it vividly, it is his first racing memory, he thinks that it is his first memory full stop. In the sitting room with his dad, watching on television, cheering Toby Tobias on, watching in wide-eyed expectation.
His dad, Con Power, had trained Toby Tobias as a young horse and had sold him to Jenny Pitman, and it looked good as the Hitchens’ horse moved up easily on the inside of Ten Of Spades and Desert Orchid around the home turn and hit the front. Alas, he was joined at the final fence by 100/1 shot Norton’s Coin, who stayed on better up the hill to beat him by three parts of a length.
Con Power kicked the foot stool.
“I remember Dad kicking the foot stool,” recalls Robbie.
Beaten by a 100/1 shot.
Robbie didn’t watch the 2017 Gold Cup with his dad, but he has seen the video. Con Power went around to Sneezy Foster’s to watch his son ride Sizing John to victory, and Sneezy’s son Nick videoed him as he did. In truth, Con Power was more animated and more emotional on the Fosters’ couch than his son Robbie was in the saddle on Sizing John. Nick Foster posted the video on social media.
“You’ve gone viral,” Robbie told his dad afterwards.
“Is that bad?”
When Robbie Power rode Silver Birch to victory in the 2007 Aintree Grand National, he was 25 and he thought that he was going to conquer the world. Lots of it passed him by, he tells you. When he rode Sizing John to win the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup last week, he was 35. He was more circumspect. He took the time to savour it all, immerse himself in the moment.
Walking back down past the stands after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the cheering from the grandstands that followed him like a spotlight, the Irish voices, the well-done-Robbies, the heartfelt congratulations. Coming back into the winner’s enclosure, a hero returned on horseback through the cheering masses, the swell of emotion, that cacophony of sound. He drank it all in, he savoured every word, every back-slap, every instant. And after he arrived in the winner’s enclosure, he wanted to turn around and walk back in again.
It was for moments like that one that he gave up a promising career as a show jumper and decided to concentrate on racing.
Dad Con Power is the Captain Con Power who was on the Irish show jumping team – along with Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh and James Kernan – that won the Aga Khan Trophy three years in a row from 1977 to 1979. Horses run through Robbie’s veins and – leading pony show jumping rider for three years as a teenager and winner of the European Silver Medal – there is no question that his experience as a show jumper is a significant factor in making him the National Hunt jockey that he now is.
And Sizing John was not really a Gold Cup horse. Not until two months ago. Strange the way that life works out sometimes because, if the Midnight Legend gelding had not been born into the same era as Douvan, he would probably still be competing over two miles, not over three and a quarter.
Nurtured through his formative racing years by Henry de Bromhead, Sizing John morphed into a high-class novice hurdler and a high-class novice chaser over two miles. But seven times he raced against Douvan, and all seven times he finished behind him. Moved to Jessica Harrington by owners Ann and Alan Potts at the start of this season, he stepped up to two and a half miles for the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles in January, where he stayed on strongly to beat Sub Lieutenant.
“Going to the second last fence that day, I thought we were beaten,” recalls Power. “But when he met the rising ground, he stayed on so strongly. I thought that we out-stayed Sub Lieutenant.”
After that victory, the Ryanair Chase over two and a half miles was the most obvious target at the Cheltenham Festival, but the owners were keen to run in the Irish Gold Cup. They had never had a runner in the Irish Gold Cup, Jessica Harrington had never had a runner in the Irish Gold Cup, so they figured, why not.
“I really thought that we would win the Irish Gold Cup,” says Robbie. “I don’t get that feeling very often, maybe once or twice a year. I just thought that there was nothing in the race that would make it a dour stamina test and, after the way he won at Thurles, I just couldn’t see anything in the race that would beat him.”
Nothing did. He travelled superbly through the Leopardstown race and he stayed on well up the hill to beat Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli.
“His work after the Irish Gold Cup was better than it ever had been. It was probably a confidence thing. I do believe that horses grow in confidence when they win. He was getting beaten up by Douvan all the time, then he wins at Thurles, then he wins at Leopardstown. He just started to walk around like a proud horse again.”
Driving out of Leopardstown on Irish Gold Cup day, Power called the owners Ann and Alan Potts. They were delighted to win the Irish Gold Cup, but all the talk was of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The Ryanair had been scratched from plans.
“I won’t say I was as confident going to Cheltenham as I was going to Leopardstown, but I was very hopeful. Neither Jessie nor I ever had any questions about his stamina. He is classy over two miles, and you need that class if you are going to win a Gold Cup.”
The race panned out in reality just as Power had played it out in his mind’s eye. The rider had already ridden Supasundae to win the Coral Cup on the Wednesday – just the second Cheltenham Festival winner of his career after Bostons Angel in the 2011 RSA Chase – and he was able to go out on Sizing John in the Gold Cup, his first ever ride in the race, with as much confidence as he dared take with him.
Sizing John settled nicely, jumped well, travelled well. Around the home turn, he moved up on the outside of Djakadam and Native River, shipped a slightly false step at the path and joined the leader on the run to the second last fence. Two good jumps now, Power thought.
He saw a long stride, gave his horse a squeeze, and Sizing John responded, sailed over the second last obstacle and landed running, a length in front. After that, his only real danger lay in front of him.
“I knew when we jumped the second last,” says Power. “The way that he jumped it. We met the last perfectly too, and I just put my head down and drove up the hill. I didn’t think anything was going to come from behind me, but I just concentrated on keeping him straight and getting to the winning line as quickly as I could. Then we hit the line.”
Con Power sat back down on the couch, exhausted, exhilarated.
© The Sunday Times, 26th March 2017