If things had worked out slightly differently for Robbie Power his visit to London this week might have been to compete at the Olympia International Horse Show just before Christmas rather than ride Lostintranslation in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Until Power, whose father Captain Con Power was a regular member of the Irish show-jumping team, was 20 he had never ridden in a race but, 17 years on, he has more than made up for lost time winning the 2007 Grand National on Silver Birch and the 2017 Gold Cup on Sizing John.
But like Ruby Walsh and then Barry Geraghty, who both did the weekly commute across the Irish Sea with success, for the past three seasons Power has also enjoyed the best of both worlds; riding for Jessica Harrington in his native Ireland on Sundays and for Colin Tizzard on Saturdays and dividing the rest of the week between the pair.
Brought up in very much a show-jumping family – his father rode in the famous Irish team which included Eddie Macken, James Kiernan and the late Paul Darragh which won the Aga Khan Trophy at Dublin three years in succession at the end of the seventies – that was the route Power planned to follow.
However his interest in racing had been kindled in the 1980s when his father had trained a few racehorses including Toby Tobias which, after being sold to Jenny Pitman, finished second to Norton’s Coin in the Gold Cup and second to Desert Orchid in the King George. As a small boy Power would ride his Shetland pony out with the string first lot.
But with his father – currently in hospital with a broken pelvis after being knocked over a by a horse – standing at 6ft 2in, Power just assumed he would always be too heavy and, after school, he came to Britain where he worked as a pupil of show-jumper Peter Charles.
“I always thought that would be the way I’d go until I got to 20 even though it was always the dream to be a jockey,” said Power.
“But we were a working farming family and to succeed at show-jumping now you need huge financial backing. At the same time I stood on the scales and was only 10st 7lbs and thought I could give it a shot.”
In his last class as a show-jumper he finished second in the puissance at the Horse of the Year Show having cleared 7ft. (The Chair at Aintree is a piffling 5ft 3in).
“But at the time Mum had a horse with Jessie which was to run in a bumper. I got my licence out, it ran moderately finishing in mid-division and then it went hurdling at Punchestown.
“It won by a neck from a horse ridden by Ruby Walsh and that was it - from then on I was never going to be anything but a jockey.”
Progress was swift, he won the Midlands Grand National and Galway Plate in 2003 and was champion conditional jockey in the 2003-04 season.
But then came the injuries and what he describes as a ‘slow time’ until Gordon Elliott, who had not even trained a winner at that stage of his career, asked him to ride Silver Birch in the National.
“That race saved my career,” he reflected. “If you’re out with injury for any length of time you’re soon forgotten. He’d already won round the course and after riding him in a gallop 10 days before, I thought he might be top five but I never for a moment thought he’d win. A fortnight late I won the Punchestown Champion Hurdle on Silent Oscar and I was up and running again.” When Geraghty took the Nicky Henderson job it opened the door for Power to take the first jockey job with Harrington. “The stability you get with a job like that is huge,” he pointed out.
However after winning the Gold Cup for Harrington on Sizing John he was asked by owner Alan Potts to ride four of his horses with Colin Tizzard at Aintree three weeks later.
All four, including Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar, won. “I rode another three for him at Punchestown and they all won and Colin asked if I’d be interested in a riding for other owners in the yard,” he reflected. And that brings us to Lostintranslation, the horse many are tipping up as the next Gold Cup winner.
“He’s seven, he’s still improving, he jumps well and proved at Haydock stamina is not an issue,” he said about his Boxing Day chances. Show jumping’s loss has been jump racing’s gain and while not all jockeys are horsemen and not all horsemen are jockeys, the current demand for Power’s services either side of the Irish Sea is because he is very definitely both.