High time to give jockeys a break, says Robbie Power

Punchestown may be the focus of attention right now but the spate of serious injuries suffered by jockeys recently is exercising the minds of the experienced pilots in the Weigh Room.

Robbie Power is coming off his best ever season in terms of winners but it pains him to see colleagues like Davy Condon forced into premature retirement, while another - Robbie McNamara - faces an uncertain future. Davy Russell, Barry Geraghty and Mark Walsh are all just back or on the way back from lengthy lay-offs.

Injuries are part and parcel of the game but the jockeys feel, not unreasonably, that given the unprecedented physical demands being placed on them, it would be helpful if they had a proper off-season which would allow them to rehab and prehab, to freshen up, physically and mentally.

The falls and kicks have a cumulative effect. So do the driving, wasting, pressure and stress. They take their toll physically and mentally. Yet the national hunt season ends on Saturday and the new one begins on Monday.

“We’ve seen in recent weeks, the stress and the strains on jockeys” says Power. “For the Turf Club to give us a 10-day break where there’s no racing is an insult to the profession. Everyone should be given a three-week break in the summer to recharge their batteries, freshen up and get going for the next season; give your body a chance to heal as well.

“If you’d three weeks from the end of June into July, come back two or three weeks before Galway… give a jockey a chance to get his body back in shape. Other top sportspeople, rugby players, soccer players, they all have long breaks in the middle of the year.

“When you get a fall, you’re sore. You get up the next day, you want to go racing; you HAVE to go racing. You’ve a chance of riding a winner, you don’t wanna miss out on that chance. You might have two or three rides and pick up another fall. It’s a build-up and a build-up.”

He recognises how fortunate AP McCoy was to choose to retire – a rare privilege for jump jockeys. It is one he hopes he will have too but not for a while yet.

“Barring injuries, hopefully I can ride for a good few more years. I’m 33 now and have had my best season ever numbers-wise, so maybe I’m like a good wine - getting better with age.”

Power is on 40 winners to date and has enjoyed big-race success for a slew of different trainers including Jessica Harrington, Gordon Elliott, Colm Murphy and Michael Winters. An association with Aidan O’Brien has proved extremely fruitful this term as well.

Power was reared with horses. The former Captain Con Power was a showjumping legend, riding a different horse in each occasion (one being the revered Rockbarton) when Ireland completed a famous Ag Khan Cup three-in-a-row from 1977-79.

His son, nicknamed ‘Puppy’ by Paul Carberry after the motto of cartoon character Scrappy Doo (Puppy Power), grew up jumping poles and moved to England to learn his trade with Peter Charles in 1998. He won a silver medal at the European Young Rider Championships but without the necessary financial backing, realised that he would never have access to the calibre of conveyance that would take him to the top level.

So he turned to racing - and to very good effect. There has been the odd busman’s holiday and he has beaten the professionals at Hickstead in the Eventers’ Grand Prix in 2012 and the Speed Derby the following year, both on Doonaveeragh O One, a stallion owned by his sister Esib, herself an international eventer.

He has enjoyed some huge days on the track in Aintree, Cheltenham, Leopardstown, Galway and Punchestown.

“I really look forward to Punchestown every year. I suppose one of my favourite memories is when shortly after I won the Grand National, I won the (Irish) Champion Hurdle on Silent Oscar, beating Macs Joy a head in a driving finish. That was up there.

“Then last year, Jessie Harrington had a fantastic festival with six winners. I played a big part in that with a double on the Friday with Burn And Turn in the mares’ handicap chase and Operating in the novice handicap chase.”

The Harrington connection is his most enduring and many of his best chances this week will come on horses trained by the Commonstown trainer.

“Rock On The Moor will run in the Grade 1 mares’ hurdle on Saturday. She ran well in Fairyhouse, just didn’t get home on soft ground over two-and-a-half. Back to 2m 2f, she’ll have a tough task with Annie Power but it’s a great race and Grade 1 black-type would be very valuable for her.

“She’s a good mare. She beat Analifet and Little King Robin very easily in Punchestown over two-and-a-half on good ground, so 2m 2f on nice ground is probably her ideal trip.

“Rock The World will run in the valuable handicap on Saturday. I’ll be looking forward to him as well. We’ve had this race in mind for him for quite a while.

“Ttebob ran well with top weight in a competitive handicap at Fairyhouse at Easter. He’ll run later on in the week in maybe the World Hurdle or a handicap.

“Mr Fiftyone, who was second having his first run after a long break at Fairyhouse, will step up for that two-and-a-half mile novice handicap which myself and Jessie have won four times in the last 10 years (Pay It Forward, Chasing Cars, Madam Bovary and Operating). Hopefully the step-up in trip should suit and if the ground is decent, Mr Fiftyone should have a good chance.”

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