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Robbie Power

Robbie Power and Jezki go way back. Even before the son of Milan arrived at Jessica Harrington’s yard, Power knew him by reputation. If he was anything like his brothers Jetson and Jenari, he would do all right.

Talent does not automatically flow between siblings, but soon after Jezki’s arrival, it was obvious that the young brother had the looks and the presence to go with his lineage. Also, his work was impressive, the work of a good horse, so they fancied him when he made his racecourse debut at Leopardstown on Irish Champion Hurdle weekend 2012 in what is traditionally a hot four-year-old bumper. He didn’t disappoint. Ridden by Mark Fahey, he stayed on well to get up and beat the highly-regarded Noel Meade horse Ned Buntline by three parts of a length.

When he went back to Leopardstown five weeks later and won another bumper under a penalty, the decision was made to allow him take his chance in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.

“In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the right thing to do,” says the rider now, cup of tea in hand, reflective in the wisdom that 20-20 vision brings. “He was only a four-year-old, and the Cheltenham race came up just 10 days after the Leopardstown race, which was probably too quickly. Cheltenham was never on the agenda until he won the second bumper but, once he won that so impressively, he was so well in himself that it seemed like the right thing to do.”

Jezki will travel back to Cheltenham on Tuesday, when he will take his place in the line-up for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Horses for courses. The fact that he has under-performed on Cheltenham’s undulations on his only run there is a slight worry for many, but not for his rider.

“He was just over the top for the bumper last year,” he says. “He just got worked up beforehand. And actually, he didn’t run at all badly given how worked up he got. As I was cantering down to the start, he was kicking out and everything. I knew then that we wouldn’t be a factor in the race.”

If Power was looking forward all summer to riding Jezki this season, however, he was in for a large dollop of disappointment. The horse’s breeder and owner at the time, Gerard McGrath, wanted Barry Geraghty to ride his horse whenever he was available. As it happened, Barry was available for Jezki’s first three runs over hurdles. He won all three.

Power was gutted. He had schooled Jezki all summer and he was bursting to ride him over hurdles. And he was there, at the races, every day. Naas in October, Naas in November, Fairyhouse in December, Power looked on each time – he actually rode against him at Naas in November – as Barry Geraghty rode Jezki to victory.

What do you do? What can you do? You bite your tongue, you bide your time, you hope that your chance will come, that your opportunity will arise. That’s all you can do. The alternative is to throw your toys out of the pram, and that’s not going to do anybody any good.

“Jezki was due to run in the Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown on 27th December,” recalls Power. “I asked Barry on what days he was riding in England for Nicky Henderson, and he said the 26th and 27th. So I asked Jessie if Jezki was my ride when Barry wasn’t available, and she confirmed that he was. So from about a week before that race, I knew that I was riding him.”

It was his opportunity, but it was also a hiding to nothing. Jezki was a warm favourite for the Leopardstown race, people expected him to win. If Power won on him, it was no more than he should have been doing, he was on the best horse. If he got beaten, however, after Barry had won on him on his previous three attempts, natural inclination would be to blame the jockey. As the race panned out, however, defeat never looked likely.

“They went a bit quick through the early stages of the race,” says the rider, “so I just sat off them a little, let them at it up front. Then going to the second last we were able to move up easily. I was planning on getting a lead to the last, but he was travelling so well that I just decided to let him go. Then once we jumped the last, I asked him to pick up, and he really did. It was like putting your foot on the accelerator.”

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was always the plan after that, and Jezki’s path to this point, two days before the race, has been smooth and uncomplicated. No races, just prepare at home, and his work has been thoroughly pleasing. Power’s path to this point, however, has been a roller-coaster.

Initially he was hoping that Nicky Henderson would have something in the race that Barry would have to ride. Then Jezki was bought by JP McManus, and he was favourite, so it looked certain that JP’s retained rider, AP McCoy, was going to ride. Then My Tent Or Yours – also owned by JP – won the Betfair Hurdle doing handsprings, and suddenly usurped Jezki’s position as Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite. It was likely, then, that AP would ride My Tent Or Yours instead.

After JP McManus’ horse won the Betfair Hurdle, Power sent McCoy a text message: “That’s the best novice I’ve seen all year!”

There was talk about My Tent Or Yours possibly running in the Champion Hurdle instead of the Supreme Novices’, which would have scuppered the best-laid plans, but that one never really gained any traction and, as things stand at present, AP McCoy rides My Tent Or Yours in Tuesday’s curtain-raiser, Robbie Power rides Jezki.

Power has other big rides. Bostons Angel is a player in the Cross-Country Chase. Second to Outlaw Pete in over the course at Cheltenham’s December meeting, he should be better for that, his debut at the track, and he is 8lb better off with the winner for a seven-length beating.

It looks like Jezki’s brother Jetson will get into the Pertemps Final this time. After missing out by just two last year, justice would be served if he did get into the race this year. And if he does, he has a real chance. One of the talented siblings. He’s in “rare form”.

As is his rider. Twenty-six winners this season to date, including a Grade 1 hurdle, and heading for his best ever. Just one more this week would do.

© The Sunday Times, 10th March 2013