Power perfectly illustrates extreme vagaries of National Hunt racing

AS A fly-on-the-wall documentary topic, a year in the life of a national hunt jockey makes gripping viewing, largely because of the nature of a job that requires two ambulances to follow you around during your working day.
Power perfectly illustrates extreme vagaries of National Hunt racing

Had some genius decided on Robbie Power as a subject worth trailing at the beginning of a jumps season, the result would have been a seminal piece of work illustrating the extreme vagaries of this sport.

Today, Power rides Boylesports Irish Grand National favourite Our Duke and if he steers Jessica Harrington’s highly-promising seven-year-old in the same expert fashion that he has guided the wave he has been on the crest of for the past month, the Meath man is destined to fill in a rare blank on his CV.

It is a calendar month since he celebrated St Patrick’s Day with a brilliant ride on Sizing John to bag the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He finished the ultimate festival with three winners, and so impressed were Sizing John’s owners Alan and Ann Potts, that they offered Power the job to ride all their horses.

They commemorated the new relationship in stupendous fashion, Power winning four races for the Yorkshire-based couple, including three Grade 1s. Each of the quartet was trained by Colin Tizzard.

Yet eight months earlier, Power’s future in the saddle was in jeopardy as doctors could determine neither cause nor cure for the double vision that resulted from a fractured eye socket and damaged eye muscle (he also broke his cheekbone), when a passing horse kicked him in the head after a fall from Flaviana at Galway.

That’s a problem when you’re approaching a fence or hurdle at 30 miles per hour and need to judge a stride.

Even when that problem was overcome, the 35-year-old ruptured a disc in his back while urging the unplaced Canadian Steel around Gowran Park at the end of January. The prognosis was a six-week lay-off, but Sizing John was due to have his Cheltenham dress rehearsal at Leopardstown in just 17 days.

At this point, riding arrangements for the Potts horses were fluid. Had someone else stood in and done the business, Power might have also been looking on ruefully at Cheltenham. And someone else might now have the likes of Sizing John, Finian’s Oscar, Fox Norton, Pingshou and co to look forward to.

So he put himself through the ringer and made it back with a day to spare. Even by jockeys’ standards, it was remarkable.

“When you’re coming back from injury, good horses are the best cure” says Power. “When you’re out injured the pain doesn’t feel so bad when you’ve a good horse to look forward to.

“For the Irish Gold Cup, I thought he was a certainty and whatever it took, I was gonna get back. Thankfully, I did. Fair play to Dr (Jabir) Nagaria in the Beacon Hospital, he did a great job and got me back.”

Prior to that, it was Ian Flitcroft, an opthalmologist in Dublin, who designed the goggles that eradicated his vision issues.

“When you get up on a horse and you’re looking out at the top of your eye and you’re seeing double of everything, it’s a bit worrying. Then when you went to a couple of doctors and they couldn’t see what was causing it, it was even more worrying. And then you eventually find the problem and get it fixed, it was huge relief.

“If we couldn’t have used the prism on the goggles I was going to have to wait six months to get the operation. So it’d only be now I’d be getting the operation done. So it was a threat to the career.” Power is well acquainted with life’s vicissitudes.

Jessica Harrington and Power are greeted by Shane Foley at the Homecoming Parade in Moone village, Co Kildare. Pictures: Inpho
Jessica Harrington and Power are greeted by Shane Foley at the Homecoming Parade in Moone village, Co Kildare. Pictures: Inpho

The son of show jumping legend Con, he moved to England in a bid to follow his father’s footsteps and won a silver medal at the European Young Rider Championships.

He lacked the financial wherewithal to build a team of horses that would enable him to flourish at the top level though and returned home from England to become a jockey.

That didn’t stop him beating the professionals in the Eventer’s Grand Prix at Hickstead in 2012 and doing the same in the Speed Derby 12 months later.

Both those triumphs came in tandem with Doonaveeragh O One, the stallion owned by his international eventer sister, Esib.

Harrington provided him with his first winner, Younevertoldme at Punchestown in 2001, and though he had stints with Ger Lyons and Paddy Mullins, winning the Galway Plate on Nearly A Moose for the latter in 2003, he has been associated with Commonstown Stables for the majority of his riding career.

Injury caused him to miss out on Newmill’s Champion Chase victory at Cheltenham in 2006 but just 13 months later, with Jason Maguire ruled out, he was picking up a spare on Silver Birch and giving some kid called Gordon Elliott an Aintree Grand National victory before he had ever even had a winner in Ireland.

He can’t compare the two huge wins of his career but overall, nothing tops what is happening right now.

“The last five weeks were a bit surreal. Cheltenham was unbelievable and to go follow up at Aintree, and have three Grade 1 winners, was phenomenal.

“For me to be leading jockey at a major festival; I never thought that would happen to me…

“I’d never compare the Grand National and the Gold Cup.

“They’re fantastic races and it’s great to have the two of them on your CV but I just think that the last month for me has been the best month of my career.”

Our Duke faces a stiff task against so many hardened operators having raced just eight times and only three of those over fences, but progressive novices have prevailed in the Fairyhouse blue riband before and with €500,000 in prizemoney available, it is worth the gamble.

“It is a big ask but the Irish National is a fantastic pot this year and we have a horse that has a chance of winning it so why not?

He’s got that huge disadvantage to overcome of his lack of experience but I think, whether he ran at Punchestown or the Irish Grand National, that lack of experience was going to be an issue anyway.

“It’ll be just the same as any other race; try and get him into a rhythm and go from fence to fence, see how we get on.

“If he does get into a rhythm and things go his way, he’d have a massive chance.”

When you’re out injured the pain doesn’t feel so bad when you’ve a good horse to look forward to

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