Thursday 22 March 2018

Power loves his Freedom

Shackles off for Robbie as he Steps up to challenge

"CHELTENHAM is the most important week of a jockey's life," is how the man who won an Aintree Grand National described the next four days.

Robbie Power broke his Cheltenham duck last season in what was a rollercoaster hour. First, Oscars Well went from looking like his first-ever winner to perplexing us all when losing his footing at the back of the last hurdle.

Bostons Angel turned despair into jubilation, however, when he won the RSA Chase and when Power set off for Cheltenham yesterday evening, he hoped this would be his most memorable week yet in racing.

"The monkey is off my back and that does take the pressure off, but I think this year going to Cheltenham I have the best book of rides I ever had and, including the handicaps, they are all in the top five in the betting so it would be disappointing to come out of there Friday without a winner."

You get the feeling from the Meath native that he almost expects to ride a winner, but he is a realist and knows just how competitive the next four days are.


He has slotted into the role as Jessica Harrington's stable jockey smoother than a factory full of silk and is hopeful of starting the week on a high tomorrow when Harrington's Steps To Freedom lines up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Although prominent in the betting, Steps To Freedom has been questioned due to his absence since a course and distance win here in November.

"Realistically, he's one of my best chances of the week. He's unbeaten over hurdles and he won well at Cheltenham the last day," began the rider.

It was a narrow win last time, but a win nonetheless and more is to come, Power explains.

"I thought he was gone over the top at Cheltenham as he had a long summer on the Flat and then three quick runs over hurdles, but connections were keen to go to see if he'd handle the track. He handled the track and there are not many horses in the race that have Cheltenham experience.

"Every time he has run first time out he has won, his work at home has been fantastic, he's schooling really well he's been in really good form and I'm looking forward to it."

Plans of a prep run at Dundalk were aborted by Harrington, but a piece of work at the Curragh on Monday last has attracted a lot of attention.

"People may have seen his last piece of work on the internet and it was very impressive, but he has got unbelievable gears. Usually he just picks up and goes from underneath you, but in Cheltenham (in November) he took a while to get going and that's just why I thought he was over the top."

Tomorrow's Supreme Novices' Hurdle looks a competitive one, but Steps To Freedom ticks more boxes than most in the race.

"He is the top-rated hurdler in the race and one of the highest rated on the flat. If he had ran at Dundalk when he was entered I'm sure he'd have been a shorter price than he is tomorrow. But to be honest, I don't give a toss about what price he is!"

Prices don't matter to Power and that is evident when he speaks of his opposition in tomorrow's Champion Hurdle and Wednesday's Champion Chase.

"There is a thing called PMA -- positive mental attitude!" he said.

"Realistically on the form book Oscars Well and Big Zeb are up against it in Hurricane Fly and Sizing Europe, but it's the old saying of never be afraid of one horse."


The 30-year-old added: "Yes, Hurricane Fly was brilliant in Leopardstown and Sizing Europe was brilliant in Punchestown but it's another race on a different day. You never know, something might happen to them on the day and mine will be there to pick up the pieces."

Oscars Well clearly suited Cheltenham last year and although failing to reproduce his top form since, his rider is bullish of a bold showing.

"The Champion Hurdle is wide open if you take Hurricane Fly out of it and I think my horse has as good a form as anything after that.


"Two miles in a strongly run race is going to play up Oscars Wells' street because he has such a high cruising speed. What he hasn't got, that you need in a Champion Hurdle, is the change of speed, that will favour Hurricane Fly, but the hill is there and finds them out sometimes."

As for Colm Murphy's Big Zeb, the chance to win the Champion Chase on the iconic 11-year-old is an exciting prospect, albeit a tough one with Sizing Europe in seemingly top form.

"Big Zeb is 11 years of age, he's getting on. I'm not saying we can definitely beat Sizing Europe, but the one thing you can be guaranteed is the gap won't be as big as it was at Punchestown."

Power recalled their last meeting in the Tied Cottage at the beginning of last month.

"I'd put a line through his last run in Punchestown as it was just 100 per cent the ground. Big Zeb can win a race on heavy ground yes, but when they go a strong gallop from the very start he just can't cope on heavy ground.

"Early on in the race I knew it wasn't working out because he was never travelling, and his jumping kept him in it.

"But at the back of the third last I said this isn't happening and I let him come home in his own time and I suppose the fact that I done that flattered Sizing Europe a bit by the margin of victory."

Back to his boss, and only a select few cannot sit back and envy Harrington's record around Cheltenham in the middle of March.

Those following Harrington and Power can be sure that if the horses are good enough on the day, there will be no excuse and the man the weighroom know as 'Puppy' is excited about the other three Commonstown representatives.

Recent Leopardstown winner Jezki heads for the Champion Bumper which the trainer won with Cork All Star.

"Four-year-olds don't have a great record in the bumper but he'll only have 10st11lbs on his back which is a big plus," he said.

"He's not your typical four-year-old, he's a much more mature horse and he'd have done more in a strong piece of work than he did in Leopardstown the last day so I'm not worried about the run coming too soon.

"If he handles the atmosphere, the travelling and all that he'll love the ground and he is a very professional and smart horse so he could run a massive race."

In the Pertemps Final Harrington will saddle Jetson, a half brother to their Champion Bumper runner.

"Leopardstown at Christmas was his first run in a handicap and we weren't going to run him two hours beforehand because the ground had gone soft, but as it qualified him for the Pertemps Final we said he could take his chance," said Power.

"He won well despite of the ground, and I think of all the horses Jessie is sending over he'll improve the most for the good ground -- he really flicks his toe. He was on the coat-tails of Boston Bob and Mount Benbulben in Navan so if you fancy Boston Bob (in Grade One novice), you'd have to fancy this lad off 10st4lbs for the Pertemps Final."

And finally, Citizenship, who could be one of the most lucrative winners of the week if he triumphs.

"Citizenship goes for the €100,000 bonus and he has improved since the Boylesports.com Hurdle. He has to have a big chance.

"I think two-and-a-half miles around Cheltenham will really play to his strengths as he wants every yard of two miles and if he's two lengths down at the last he will win as he'll fly up that hill. He's a little terrier."

Last year Power admitted to "convincing" himself that Oscars Well would win, so does any of this week's book of rides give him the same vibe? "If things go right and he gets the luck in running, Steps To Freedom will take an awful lot of beating."

Last year saw Power open his Cheltenham Festival account. Do not be surprised to see it doubled, or maybe even more, this week.

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