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Robbie Power

When Robbie Power returned to race riding at Naas last January, he knew that this was it.  He knew that he was into the home straight.  There comes a point at which you have to listen to your body, and his body was screaming at him to stop.

You could list his injuries, but that is beyond the scope of this project.  Even the list of injuries that he sustained from his fall at Thurles in October 2021, the one that kept him on the sidelines until he returned last January, is long.  Kicked in the face and in the hip, broken nose, broken cheekbone, torn tendon in his arm. 

Even so, he would have been back in a couple of weeks were it not for the fracture in his hip, the one that was missed in the initial diagnosis.  He tried to get back for Christmas, a slightly younger Robbie Power would have been back for Christmas, but the older you get, the longer these things take.  It was the first time in 20 years that he had missed the four days of the Christmas festivals.  He set his sights on a January return and started to think about an exit strategy. 

If he had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Minella Indo in March, he would have done it then.  He would have dismounted in the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham and said, that’s it, I’m off.  But Rachael Blackmore and A Plus Tard obviously didn’t get that memo.  After that, it was Punchestown.  Whatever happened at the Punchestown Festival, that would be it.

“I didn’t tell many people,” says Robbie now.  “I didn’t even tell my mother and father.  I talked about it with my wife Hannah obviously.  She knew.  My sister knew, my agent Ciaran O’Toole knew.  That was all.  But I knew I couldn’t keep going.  The pain in my hip was just too much.  I had been eating pain killers every day for the previous three months.  I was thinking, if I rode a winner at Punchestown, I would announce it then.”

On the second day of the Punchestown Festival, he won the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle on Crosshill.  He thought about announcing it then, but he didn’t.  Something stopped him.  He had good rides later in the week, he thought.  Magic Daze on the Thursday, Teahupoo on the Friday.  He took a chance that he would have another winner.  He arrived home on Wednesday evening, where Hannah awaited his arrival: So you’re going for another season are you?!

“Ciaran O’Toole rang me on Thursday morning and asked me if I was sure I was going to go.  You don’t have to go you know!  He was great though.  He got it.  He understood.  He knew that there was no going back.” 

Magic Daze is a free-going mare, and Robbie Power gave her the young man’s ride under which she thrives in the Handicap Chase on Thursday.  Fence to fence, winging away, no holding back.  She danced in, over two lengths clear of Mt Leinster.  You could see the emotion in Power’s eyes as, still on the horse’s back, out on the course, he gave his post-race interview to Katie Walsh.

“I’ll wear these colours on Teahupoo tomorrow,” he said, “and that’ll be it.”

It was the final chapter in a career that spanned over 20 years.  Bred to work with horses, a top-class showjumper, Robbie Power quickly started to move to the beat of racing’s drum, and his career took off.  From Younevertoldme’s win in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown in December 2001, his mother’s mare, getting home by a neck from King’s Deal and Ruby Walsh, to Magic Daze back at Punchestown in April 2022.  Full circle, and all that went in between.

There were many memorable days.  A first Grade 1 win on Carrigeen Victor for his long-standing supporter Jessica Harrington in the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase at Leopardstown in 2005, and a second Grade 1 win on Silent Oscar for Harry Rogers in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, getting up to beat Barry Geraghty and the Jessica Harrington-trained Macs Joy by a neck.

“We thought that Silent Oscar had a big chance that day,” he says.  “He had beaten Macs Joy in a flat race at The Curragh a few weeks earlier.  Certainly, he shouldn’t have been a 20/1 shot.  I got a great kick out of that.”

The second day of the 2011 Cheltenham Festival was memorable for sure.  The low of Oscars Well, in front when he sprawled on landing over the final flight in the Neptune Hurdle, the high of Bostons Angel in the RSA Chase a half an hour later.

“I had never ridden a Cheltenham Festival winner before that day,” says Robbie, “and I was sure, after Oscars Well, that that was my chance gone.  That I would never have such a good chance again.  But I remember Jessie saying to me before the RSA Chase, you’ll win this one instead.  That was some feeling, winning the RSA Chase.  Bostons Angel was so tough.”

The 2016/17 season was Power’s annus mirabilis.  That was the season of Sizing John, Irish Gold Cup winner, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Punchestown Gold Cup winner.  The only horse to win the three Gold Cups, achieving a feat that may not be repeated for a very long time.

“Sizing John was remarkable, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, that was phenomenal, and then to come back to Punchestown and do what he did.  I’d say that was probably the best race I ever rode in, Sizing John and Djakadam and Coneygree, the three of us over the last together.  Sizing John wasn’t at his best that day, but still he managed to find a way to win.”

That was also the season of Our Duke, winner of the Irish Grand National, a novice carrying 11st 4lb.  And it was the start of Power’s link up with Colin Tizzard.

“Sizing John’s owner Alan Potts asked me shortly after we had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup if I could ride the horses that he had in Britain with Colin Tizzard.  I didn’t know Colin Tizzard before that, but I knew his son Joe, so that made it easy.  We had a phenomenal Aintree that year, I rode four horses for Colin and Alan at Aintree, Pingshou, Fox Norton, Finian’s Oscar and Sizing Codelco, and they all won.”

After that, Colin Tizzard asked him if he could come over and back to Britain to ride for him, for other owners’ horses too, not just for the Alan Potts horses.

“I loved that, going over to Britain for good rides, for good horses.  Horses like Lostintranslation, Fiddlerontheroof, Eldorado Allen, Reserve Tank, Mister Malarky.  We had a lot of success together.”

Power’s association with Jessica Harrington is a thread that ran through his entire career as a jockey, but he was the go-to rider for others too, he won big races on big horses for other top trainers: Big Zeb for Colm Murphy, Chacun Pour Soi and Saldier for Willie Mullins, Tudor City in the Galway Hurdle for Tony Martin, The Shunter in the Greatwood Hurdle for Emmet Mullins.  And, of course, famously, when Jason Maguire wasn’t available for Silver Birch in the 2007 Aintree Grand National, Robbie Power was the man Gordon Elliott called.

In recent years, he built up a strong association with Henry de Bromehead too and with owner Brian Acheson.  It was fitting that he rode his final winner on the Henry de Bromhead-trained Magic Daze, in Brian Acheson’s Robcour colours.

“I was very lucky in my career as a jockey,” says Power.  “I achieved everything that I ever thought I could achieve, and much more.”

It was strange at first, retirement.  Of course it was.  Being not a jockey.  Going racing and not going into the weigh room.

“I took a few weeks off after Punchestown.  We went to France, to Ile De Ré, and that was great, to get away, to spend time with Hannah and Emma.  And when I came back, I was busy with sales, three-year-olds to go point-to-pointing.  Then, at the end of June, I had no work to do.  That was strange.  So I said I’d better go and get a job!”

Harry Rogers once said to him, be sure to stay riding for as long as you can, because once you stop riding, you have to start working.

“It was odd going racing.  I saw parts of racecourses that I never knew existed!  Galway for example.  Usually at Galway, I’d go in the back way, into the weigh room, into the parade ring, out onto the track, back to the parade ring, back to the weigh room.  Do that a few times, then out the gate and home.  This year, I was in the enclosures.  I didn’t know where anywhere was!  I got to grips with it though.  I enjoy it.  I like going racing, I like meeting people at the races, talking to people.”

At the McCoy Awards at Cheltenham there three weeks ago, AP asked him if he had accepted retirement yet, and he told him that he had accepted it in February.

In August he answered a phone call from Simon Kerins, CEO of Tattersalls Ireland.

“Jamie Codd had said it to me one morning when I was riding out at Gordon’s,” says Robbie.  “He asked me if I would be interested in working with Tattersalls when I stopped riding.  I hadn’t really thought about it while I was riding, but I thought about everything during my time off.  What would I do?  I always wanted to stay in the industry obviously.  So it was nice to get the phone call.”

He is really enjoying his work for Tattersalls.  He enjoys going out and looking at young horses, store horses, inspecting them, envisaging how they are going to develop.

“I have been looking at horses all my life,” he says thoughtfully.  “And when you are inspecting horses for the Derby Sale, you are looking at the cream of the crop.  You are looking at horses who are going to be the next superstars.  I know that I will get a great kick out of that, horses that I have selected for the Derby Sale, watching as they develop, seeing what they achieve.”

And his association with Henry de Bromhead continues. 

“I am just another set of eyes on the gallop.  I love watching the horses working.  It’s a bit different for me, watching horses work as opposed to riding them work, but it is something that I really enjoy.  I know the racing calendar well, and I enjoy helping Henry with race planning.  This is a really exciting time of year, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the horses progress.”

And the beat goes on.

© The Irish Field, 5th November 2022