‘Puppy’ will have to muster all his power to ride Supasundae to victory
Despite soft ground, Robbie Power is focusing on the finishing post in Stayers’ Hurdle
Robbie Power on Supasundae wins the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, just ahead of Paul Townend on Faugheen. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
It’s over 16 years since Robbie Power rode his first winner, so the man who rides Supasundae in Thursday’s Stayers’ Hurdle knows how tough this jump-racing game can be. And one of Ireland’s top jockeys also knows how fickle its fashions are.
Power’s ascent to the pinnacle of big race success was one of the racing stories of 2017. Sizing John’s Gold Cup Triple Crown in particular cemented his status as one of the sport’s go-to jockeys. The pay-offs of that profile have followed.
The Potts family, who own both Supasundae and Sizing John, retain his services. Power has his own bookmaker blog and a newspaper column. Should Supasundae win on Thursday his jockey will go into Friday’s Gold Cup, and the ride on Our Duke, on the sort of roll few get to experience.
It’s elite stuff, so, as a salutary reminder of how prone to fashion such a self-consciously tough sport is, consider how Power went four years from Christmas 2012 to Christmas 2016 without a single Grade One winner.
Yes, there were lucrative victories in between, including a Galway Hurdle. But by absolute elite standards the man who’d ridden Silver Birch to Grand National glory in 2007 looked to have been categorised by many in the sport at a level just below.
Then Our Duke came along, Sizing John and Supasundae were transferred to a rejuvenated Jessica Harrington, and perceptions changed. There have been eight Grade Ones since, including two for top English trainer Colin Tizzard at Aintree last season.
“I’ve always said my riding didn’t change too much over the last seven or eight years. Obviously you learn something new every day, and you get wiser. But my riding didn’t change. I just got lucky getting on better-quality horses,” he says.
“You get patches as a jockey. I remember I got a good start, being champion conditional, winning a Galway Plate (2003, Nearly A Moose) and a Midlands National for Jessie (Intelligent, 2003.)
“But then you get injuries, break bones and you’re on the sidelines for a spell. And this is a fickle sport. If you’re out for six weeks or a couple of months people forget about you very quickly. And it’s very hard to get back going again.
“I’ve been very lucky that Jessie has always given me opportunities. You need that. It is an old cliche but good horses make good jockeys and I’ve just been very lucky to get on some very good horses in the last couple of years,” Power says.
He recalls too how Silver Birch’s National victory came at a vital time in his career and how success tends to trail success. Later that April of 2007 Power landed Punchestown’s Champion Hurdle on the 20-1 shot, Silent Oscar.
Opportunities are one thing, however. Making the most of them is another. Persistence is required to be ready if they come along. And when opportunity knocked for Power the toughness synonymous with his profession meant he was ready.
I’ve had a chat with my surgeon about doing the operation and he’s of the opinion that if the goggles are working, and it’s not affecting my everyday life, there’s no need to do anything
It was at the 2016 Galway festival that Power had a fall in a hurdle race which resulted in him getting kicked while on the ground. The blow broke his cheekbone and fractured his left eye-socket. It also left him with impaired vision when looking through the top of his left eye, a particular problem given the body position jockeys assume in a race.
Everyday life was no problem, but the problem didn’t disappear, and only specially designed goggles allowed Power to continue his career. As if getting used to that wasn’t enough, Power suffered another fall the following January which ruptured a disc in his back. Only with the help of injections did he make it back in time to ride Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup.
It was that dogged grit which kick-started the career renaissance that shows no sign of slowing down. And Power is determined to make the most of it, to the extent that any surgery on the eye that has provoked playful Terminator comparisons can wait.
“I’ve had a chat with my surgeon about doing the operation and he’s of the opinion that if the goggles are working, and it’s not affecting my everyday life, there’s no need to do anything. Apparently the surgery is quite tricky so I think I will leave well enough alone,” he says.
Instead his more immediate concern is the potential impact of Cheltenham’s testing ground conditions on Supasundae’s Stayers’ Hurdle chance.
The man known within racing as “Puppy” Power – after Scooby-Doo’s nephew Scrappy-Doo’s catchphrase – finds it difficult to hush a nagging suspicion that this classically bred son of Galileo can’t be at his best in a winter gluepot.
Otherwise Supasundae ticks a lot of boxes. He proved his class with a first Grade One at two miles in the Irish Champion Hurdle and has course form having won last year’s Coral Cup.
But Harrington herself has admitted soft ground will be a worry and conditions could end up testing enough to make this three-mile race a true slog.
Power believes on good ground his horse would take plenty of beating. Supasundae isn’t going to get that. But he still looks Ireland’s main hope. And from the saddle he will get typical persistence from one of the game’s most in-demand riders.