Punchestown Festival a fitting end to Robbie Power’s career of magic days

As the Willie Mullins roadshow rolled on at Punchestown with Grade One success for Klassical Dream and Blue Lord, there was time to pause and bid farewell to two grand soldiers of the jumping game.

Barely half an hour after Robbie ‘Puppy’ Power announced he would be hanging up his whip today, Ballyboker Bridge, a standing dish at the Festival, was retired after rolling back the years to claim the La Touche Cup.

Power, who turns 41 next month, will sign off an outstanding career on Teahupoo in the Champion Hurdle today.

Robbie Power onboard Magic Daze celebrates winning The Pigsback.com Handicap Steeplechase, Punchestown Racing Festival, Punchestown Racecourse, Co. Kildare 4/28/2022. Pic: INPHO/Tom Maher

He also leaves with a fine nickname, courtesy of Paul Carberry who named him after the catch phrase of Scooby Doo’s little nephew, Scrappy.

Like Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry in 2018 and Ruby Walsh a year later, Power used the platform of Punchestown to exit the stage he has graced for 20 years.

His CV stands comparison with the elite of the weigh room, especially over fences, where he was ‘probably the best I’ve seen’, according to trainer Jessica Harrington, who gave Power his first win in December 2001, fittingly at Punchestown.

The tale of the tape bears Harrington out as Power won the Grand National at Aintree, the Irish National, and completed a treble top of Gold Cups on Sizing John in 2017 — at Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Punchestown.

26 April 2017; Robbie Power celebrates as he enters the winners’ enclosure after winning the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on Sizing John at Punchestown Racecourse in Naas, Co. Kildare. Pic: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

The old boy was back in the parade ring on Wednesday and it’s debatable he’d have scaled stellar heights had Power and Harrington not decided to step him up in trip, rather than chase Douvan’s backside.

Power chalked up an impressive 31 Grade One wins but recent years were beset by injury, first to his eye in 2016 which almost caused him to retire. Harrington recalled how she felt the game was up for Power.

‘One day in Gowran he was missing every hurdle, came in and said, “I can’t ride any more. When I went down low and looked up, I couldn’t see the hurdle”,’ she recalled.

‘He was really worried and felt he’d never ride again. He went to see an eye specialist who fitted goggles on him with prisms and he was OK. And that was before Sizing John came along.’

17 March 2017; Jockey Robbie Power and trainer Jessica Harrington with the Gold Cup after winning the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase on Sizing John during the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. Pic: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

A serious back injury in 2020 was followed by a fractured hip this season and Power sensed his time was almost up.

He inched on to Punchestown, eager to leave the arena on his own terms, ideally with a winner at Punchestown, and it came to pass yesterday on Henry de Bromhead’s Magic Daze in the Pigsback.com Handicap Chase.

‘This is it,’ he said. ‘The pain I’ve had for the last couple of months has just been borderline. I wanted to go out on some sort of a high and that’s why I kept pushing to here,’ he said.

‘I’m on painkillers and when I wake up in the morning. I have a program of exercises I have to do. If I don’t, then I’m banjaxed for the rest of the day.

Robbie Power onboard Magic Daze celebrates winning The Pigsback.com Handicap Steeplechase, Punchestown Racing Festival, Punchestown Racecourse, Co. Kildare 4/28/2022. Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

‘I rode my first winner here and I’ll at least ride my last winner here so that’s special.’

What was the career highlight? ‘The day that Sizing John won his third Gold Cup here, that was the greatest race I ever rode in with Djakadam and Coneygree, and we went a hell of a gallop.’

Power readily acknowledged the role played by Harrington. ‘I owe everything to Jessie in my career. Without her, I wouldn’t have achieved a quarter of what I achieved. When I had bad days, she stood by me.’

If Power owed much to Harrington, so Peter Maher will never have another stalwart like Ballyboker Bridge who, at 15, became the oldest winner at the Festival.

Magic Daze ridden by jockey Robbie Power clears the last on their way to winning the Pigsback.com Handicap Chase on day three of the Punchestown Festival at Punchestown Racecourse in County Kildare, Ireland. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

With two days to go, Mullins leads the Festival trainer’s table on nine winners, after Klassical Dream and Blue Lord did enough under Paul Townend to claim the Champion Stayers Hurdle and Barberstown Novice Chase respectively.

There was a welcome double for De Bromhead, who took the closing Bumper with 25/1 outsider Tag Man and is two shy of 100 winners this season.

Honeysuckle should be his 99th today unless Power and Teahupoo spoil the party.

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