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02nd Mar 2023

From the saddle to the stands: A year out but Robbie Power still has a part to play at Cheltenham

Niall McIntyre

Brought to you by BoyleSports

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It will be the first time in his life that Robbie Power heads over to Cheltenham as a retired jockey, without a book of rides, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have the feet up watching it, with a pipe in his mouth.

For Robbie Power, the same as it ever was, it’s still all hands on deck for the Olympics of horse-racing.

Having retired last April, the Meath man quickly took up a role as Henry De Bromhead’s racing planner and in the aftermath of a long race-riding career, this is what’s sating his competitive edge now.

“It is times like this that you’d miss it (race-riding),” says the BoyleSports ambassador.

“But my involvement as racing planner for Henry gives me a competitive edge to the whole thing.

“I retired not because I’d lost my competitive edge – that’s still alive and kicking – but because my body wasn’t able for it anymore. In that way, this does fill the void for me”

It’s not as full-on, he doesn’t have to ride out every morning, but the job keeps him busy, and that suits this man down to the ground.

“What I do is I sit down with Henry and we discuss races and horses and see what races suit them best. I’d have a good knowledge of the calendar having ridden for 21 years.

“So look, I am looking forward to being a bit more relaxed at Cheltenham but I’ll still be busy. I’ll have a huge focus, and, all going well, I will get a huge kick out of any of the horses that win.”

There are things he’s missed about life in the saddle – of course there are –  but equally, he’s at peace with the decision. Small things like going out for dinner and, guilt free, being able to order whatever you want makes an almighty difference.

“I’ve no doubt in my mind too that when I see the horses walking down the chute for the first race on the first day that I’ll get that little tingle down my spine to say ‘did I retire too soon?’ but look, I’m looking forward to it (the festival).”

“I’m going getting a new hip on April 18. So there is a time when you have to listen to your body, and that was clearly mine.

“Once you stop, you’re never worried about having a big feed or meal of a Friday or a Saturday night,” Power says.

“That’s enjoyable. I was quite lucky that for the last eight years of my career, my weight was pretty stable, and I wasn’t having to do that much sweating so that helped me, especially mentally, that you weren’t getting into a bath every time you had something to eat.

“I do enjoy going out for a meal now of a Friday or a Saturday, you don’t have to be worried about the menu, you can eat whatever you want. Because in the past, as a jockey, I just wouldn’t have gone (for those meals). I’d have turned them down, simple as.”

One of the biggest controversies in the lead-up to this Cheltenham festival has been the recent changes in the whip-rules for jockeys, which has resulted in some jockeys accruing suspensions in the lead-up to the festival, and Power is forthright in his views.

Effectively, jockeys are only allowed to use their whip seven times in a jumps race now, instead of eight.

He doesn’t think it’s fair on his old weigh-room colleagues.

“I don’t like horses being hit. But the majority of the time, jockeys are very professional, and use their whip responsibly. Look, nine out of ten horses are very straight forward and two or three slaps of the whip is all they’ll ever need (in a race.)

“But there are horses who are quite lazy and take a bit of stoking up.

“Boston’s Angel and Supasundae are two horses that spring to mind for me – very talented horses, but they only did what you asked them to do. You got nothing off them for free, you had to work very hard on them.

“I often have to let them know early on in a race ‘come on, wake up, we’re at the races.'”

“I’d be the first to look at a race and say ‘that jockey should get done for the whip,’ he hasn’t used it correctly. There’s nothing worse than hitting a horse ‘bang, bang’ – I think that looks absolutely terrible.

“If you give a horse a slap and he doesn’t respond to it, then there’s no point in hitting him again. Jockeys know that, so they should be allowed to use their own discretion, and so should stewards.”

But the real issue for Power is the timing of these new rules, seeing as they were introduced in the middle of the season.

“It’s mindblowing how they could change the rules in the middle of the season.

“I have no problem with it coming in for the flat season – they have time to think about it, digest it now before the flat season – they’ve had plenty of warning.

“Bringing this in a couple of weeks before our Olympic games of horse-racing makes no sense whatsoever.”

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