Donn's Articles » David and Sabena Power

David and Sabena Power

Last December, a couple of days before David Power was due to fly to Hong Kong to see his horse Sole Power run in the Hong Kong Sprint, he felt a little pain in his chest and he felt a little light in his head. When he went to get it checked out, the doctors didn’t seem overly concerned, but they told him to come back that evening so that they could do more tests.

He checked into the Beacon Clinic that night, they hooked him up to the machines and the tests started to run as he bedded down for the night. When he woke up a couple of hours later, he woke up with a start, people everywhere, scurrying around him. His heart had stopped.

“They had to jump-start me again,” he says with a smile. “If I hadn’t been in there when it happened, I probably wouldn’t have made it.”

He says it matter-of-factly. Indeed, the whole story is told matter-of-factly, long after we have dug into the minutiae of the Sole Power and Slade Power stories, as if it is incidental. But it isn’t.

So what changes did the incident effect? Not too many, he tells you. He didn’t go to Hong Kong for starters. Sole Power had to finish second in one of the most valuable sprint races in the world without him. He cut down on alcohol and he stopped smoking his pipe. That was tough. Still is. He had been smoking his pipe for 40 years. That’s about 15 years before he and Stewart Kenny and John Corcoran founded Paddy Power Bookmakers. It’s worth the sacrifice though, the potential downside is too great. He has too many reasons to live.

The Sole Power story started at the DBS September sale in 2008, when Eddie Lynam paid £32,000 for a yearling by Kyllachy and asked David and Sabena Power if they wanted half of him.

You probably know most of the rest of it. One win as a juvenile at Dundalk, one win early in his three-year-old season also at Dundalk, before he went to York for the 2010 Nunthorpe Stakes later in his three-year-old season and, an unconsidered 100/1 shot, won the Group 1 contest.

Since then, he has added significantly to his haul, proving himself to be one of the best sprinters in the world. Last year, he added another Group 1 race, the 2013 King’s Stand Stakes, before he went back to Royal Ascot in June this year to try to win the race again.

The Slade Power story has a few more turns. It actually starts with Girl Power, a relatively expensive yearling who won just one of her seven races and from whom the Powers decided to breed after her racing career was over. They sent her to the Cheveley Park Stud stallion Dutch Art in 2008, the year that they bought Sole Power, and the resulting foal was Slade Power.

Girl Power rejected her foal. His first foster mare didn’t want him either. They needed a second foster mare just to enable the little fellow survive. Despite such a precarious start to his life, he quickly showed bundles of ability, winning four of his first six races and finishing second in the other two. Then he went to Ascot for the British Champions Sprint Stakes at the end of the 2012 season, and fractured his pelvis.

“Only for the vet Simon Knapp,” says Sabena, “we could have lost Slade. Simon was brilliant, he looked after him so well and so quickly. We owe Simon a lot.”

Slade Power progressed nicely last year as a four-year-old. All the while, Eddie Lynam said that he was a Group 1 sprinter at home, that we just hadn’t seen it on the racecourse. This season, we saw it on the racecourse. He proved his trainer right. His rider Wayne Lordan says that every horse has one season: this is Slade Power’s season.

“Royal Ascot was remarkable,” says David. “Just to have a runner at Royal Ascot is fantastic. To have a horse that is good enough even to run in one of the handicaps is brilliant. But to have two big runners in two Group 1 races, one on the first day of the meeting and one on the last day, and then for Eddie to have the filly (Anthem Alexander) win the Queen Mary as well, it was a truly amazing week.”

Sole in the King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday, Slade in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on Saturday. You can drop the suffix. If a horse races in Sabena Power’s white silks with the red stripes on the sleeves, the colours in which horses owned by David’s grandfather Richard used to race, then you can take it as given that its second name is Power.

They talk about Richard Hughes’ ride on Sole. If you were to create a rider to fit Sole Power’s style of racing, you would create Richard Hughes.

“Richard ‘got’ him straight away,” says Sabena. “Jockeys don’t believe you when you tell them about his turn of foot,” says David. “Richard did.”

Hughes waited until he dared wait no longer, then he waited again, before he unleashed the coiled spring that is Sole Power’s turn of foot, which took him to a one-length victory in the King’s Stand Stakes. Cosy in the end. David was working at Ascot, he and his son Willie operating their pitch in the betting ring. But he allowed himself the rest of the day off, and he thinks that Willie may have been a little late in pricing up the next race.

They had to wait four days for the Diamond Jubilee, but their optimism didn’t wane. On the one hand, you just cannot expect to win two Group 1 races at Royal Ascot with two runners. On the other, however, they thought that Slade had a massive chance. Indeed, if you had asked David at the start of the week which of their horses had the better chance, hand on heart, he would have said Slade.

“The angle from which we were watching, it looked as though the horses on the near side were closing on Slade quickly going to the line. But it was an optical illusion, he was always holding them. Wayne gave him a great ride. And it was great to have everybody there, all our family and all Eddie’s family. It was an unforgettable week.”

As if that was not enough, Slade Power then went to Newmarket three weeks later and won the Darley July Cup. Next up for him is the Sprint Cup at Haydock in September, before he heads to Australia to take on the antipodean superstar Lankan Rupee in the VRC Sprint Classic at Flemington in November. That will be his swansong. A deal has already been brokered for him to stand as a stallion at Sheikh Mohammed’s Kildangan Stud in Kildare next season.

For Sole Power, as long as the ground is not too soft, he will run in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York this Friday. All going well there, it will be back to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Sprint in December.

Sole is a gelding, so no career as a stallion beckons. He will race on for as long as he wants to, but the Powers are adamant, as soon as he shows any sign that he is not enjoying it, he will hang up his racing shoes and go and frolic in a paddock.

For now, however, he and his owners share a common characteristic: none of them are ready to hang up their racing shoes just yet.

© The Sunday Times, 17th August 2014