THE BoyleSports Irish Grand National takes centre stage at Fairyhouse today and Robbie Power is looking forward to trying to win the race for a second time aboard Jonjo O’Neill’s raider Time To Get Up.
O’Neill is no stranger to success in the three-mile-five-furlong marathon, having saddled Butler’s Cabin (2007) and Shutthefrontdoor (2014) to claim success on Easter Monday.
The €270,000 first prize would be suitable compensation for his latest challenger, who missed out on a place in the Grand National at Aintree as the nine-year-old was not qualified.
Power partnered 9-2 favourite Our Duke to an emphatic victory in the 2017 Irish National and the 40-year-old is optimistic that last year’s Midlands Grand National winner can hold his own.
“I’m looking forward to it, he won a Midlands National at Uttoxeter so the trip won’t be a problem and it’s a lovely spare ride to pick up,” said Power.
“He has an outside chance, the ground won’t be an issue for him, so I think he will do OK.”
This year’s race comes just nine days after Aintree — and with some of the 30-strong field attempting to take in both contests, Power is unsure a trip to Merseyside is the best way to prepare for an Irish National, highlighting one from Willie Mullins’ all-conquering string as the horse with the ideal profile for the race.
“I always think it is very hard to win an Irish Grand National as an afterthought, its usually a plan that is hatched at least a couple of months before,” he explained.
“The likes of Enjoy D’allen, Mount Ida and Run Wild Fred were all trained for the English Grand National, it just didn’t really happen for them on the day and it’s very hard to bounce back, even if like some of them, they exited the race really early at Liverpool.
“The Irish Grand National is a race where you can make a case for a number of different horses, but Gaillard Du Mesnil is the one who ticks a lot of boxes.
“He’s a novice, he was a dual Grade One-winning hurdler. His form over fences probably hasn’t been what connections might have thought it would be at the beginning of the season, but he comes into this in decent form and he’s the outstanding novice in the race that might have a bit up his sleeve.”
Aintree produced a fairytale ending to Sam Waley-Cohen’s riding career, and Power believes there could be another feel-good story at Fairyhouse if either Max Flamingo or Full Time Score could land the spoils.
He said: “The fairytale in the race would be Max Flamingo for Francis Casey. He was a good winner at Thurles last time and must have a big chance, with the other being Full Time Score for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore, who have been winning nearly everything for the last year or so.
“He was a good winner at Fairyhouse and this race looks to have been mapped out for him. Chris Jones, the owner, is local, so it would be a nice success for him.”
Power has won some of the biggest prizes in the sport over a long and distinguished career, but the Irish Grand National is still a day that gets the juices flowing for a rider who lives just 15 minutes from the course.
“I’m local to Fairyhouse and for me, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s the most important race on the Irish National Hunt calendar,” he said.
“It always falls on Easter Monday and it’s one of the races that every jockey wants to win.
“Thankfully I’ve been lucky enough to do it. I would love to do it again and with BoyleSports’ sponsorship of it and €500,000 in prize-money, it is right where it should be as the richest race in Ireland.
“It’s a real quality race, bottom rated is 137, so that tells you how good a race it is.”
Having landed the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Jessie Harrington’s Sizing John, the trainer and rider combined for more success that spring when Our Duke was an easy 14-length winner of this race — a day that will live long in the memory for Power.
He said: “It’s right up there with some of the biggest days I’ve had.
“You get a huge thrill out of winning any of those big races — Grand National, Gold Cup — but I got an electric kick out of winning the Irish Grand National on Our Duke because it’s my local course and it was a plan that had been hatched at Christmas after he won his Grade One.
“The owners didn’t want to go to Cheltenham and this was the race they wanted to win, so it was huge.
“He was well backed on the day and the race couldn’t have gone more perfectly. He just travelled and jumped everywhere with me and I got a huge kick out of it as I had all my family and friends there on the day.”
It has been at times a testing 2021/22 campaign for Power, who spent the majority of the early part of the season sidelined through injury.
However, since his return to the saddle he has been called upon for the ride on 2021 Gold Cup-winner Minella Indo and the rider says it is the good horses that keep spirits high on the dark days of rehabilitation and recovery.
“When you’re off injured and you’re fighting to get fit, that’s what you’re fighting for — horses like Minella Indo to ride on these big days and races like the Gold Cup and Irish Grand National.“They are the reasons you fight so hard to get back, especially at my age. It was hard work, it was torturous at times, but with the help of Enda King (physio) and knowing you’ve got some really nice horses to ride, that’s what spurs you on to get back.”
Robbie Power was speaking exclusively via BoyleXtra, where he works as a brand ambassador.