The jockey who rode Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner was wearing special goggles to combat the double-vision he suffers from since a kick to the head in a fall last summer. Robbie Power has the impaired vision when looking through the top of his left eye, a condition which would hardly affect most people but which is a fundamental problem for jockeys as a result of the bent-forward posture they are obliged to adopt in races.
Power, who also won the 2007 Grand National on Silver Birch, was injured at the Galway Festival in July, when he was an early faller in a 20-runner race over hurdles and was kicked as a horse passed above him. The blow broke a cheekbone and caused a complex fracture of his left eye-socket, with additional damage to the muscle on the floor of his eye-bed.
While the other symptoms passed, Power’s vision did not recover and it appeared that his career in the saddle might be over. The 35-year-old credits the Dublin-based ophthalmologist Ian Flitcroft for the fact that he was eventually able to return to the saddle in October. Two months later, he was given the ride on Sizing John, who carried him to Cheltenham glory on Friday.
“I wear specially treated goggles to correct the double vision,” Power said on Monday. “It doesn’t affect me in everyday life. I can still drive and everything else is fine. It’s only a problem when you’re on a horse, looking out of the top of your eyeball.
“Ian Flitcroft came up with the idea. He said I was the first jockey he’s worked with but he’s worked with swimmers and snooker-players before.”
Power appeared in Friday’s post-race photographs with one eye wide open and the other almost closed, prompting social media comparisons with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appearance in The Terminator. Counter-intuitively, Power reports that it is the more open, left eye which is damaged.
“I’d say the muscles on the floor of the eye-bed have gone. It would probably take surgery to fix them and I’ve been told that surgery is an option.” But Power added that he was not tempted by surgery, given how well the corrective goggles have worked for him.
Power could arguably be at a disadvantage relative to other jump jockeys when the mud is flying, circumstances in which some jockeys wear several pairs of goggles and pull down the outermost set if they become muck-spattered. When that happens, Power’s only option is to try wiping away the mud with his fingers, but it didn’t stop him riding winners through a typically wet Irish winter.
Nor was the Galway fall his only recent injury, as he ruptured a disc in his back in January, requiring an epidural injection as part of his treatment. It was an unpromising build-up to last week’s Cheltenham Festival, where he then rode three winners, his first successes in Britain since 2011.
Of Sizing John, he said: “I rode him for the first time at Christmas and made the suggestion he should go up in distance. I’ve always had great faith in the horse, I believed he would stay the trip. We had the homecoming last night in Moone [the horse’s home village in Kildare], which was very exciting.
“It was an unbelievable feeling. I’d say I appreciated it more than winning the National because I’m 35 now, not 25. But they’re the two biggest races in jump racing and I’m very lucky to have won both.”