Robbie Power – 2007 Grand National-winning jockey with Silver Birch

We caught up with Robbie Power, Grand National winner and rider of Poker Party in this year’s big race on behalf of BoyleSports latest horse racing betting to run through a day in his life on the biggest race on the planet, as well as getting the inside track on the unique Liverpool atmosphere and how the Reds fan is feeling ahead of their crunch clash against Man City.

The Grand National is important – Man City v Liverpool is more important, right?

Yeah, it is actually – it’s fantastic. They’ve moved the game as well, it was supposed to be at half [past] five on Saturday – which would have clashed with the Grand National – so it made sense, because I think every Liverpool fan will be watching the match on Sunday, so the Grand National is the perfect appetizer for the game on Sunday. 

I’m not going to the Etihad [stadium], I’ll be back home in Ireland with a front-row seat on the couch to watch the game. 

What is the atmosphere like in Liverpool during the Grand National?

Aintree is just an unbelievable atmosphere – the Friday and Saturday, especially. 

The atmosphere there is just second to none – the Liverpool people really get behind the Grand National, and everywhere you go in the city a couple of days before Aintree it’s ‘are you riding anything in the Grand National? Have you a chance?’ Everybody gets involved and has a punt.

I think this year, more than any other year, the atmosphere is going to be second to none because the people of Liverpool have missed two Grand Nationals – 2020 was cancelled and 2021 was behind closed doors. So, it’s the first Grand National since 2019 where people are able to go and watch it. I think this year the atmosphere is going to be extra special. 

I think you just feed off the whole buzz of the week. I fly over on Thursday and as soon as you arrive you can feel the buzz around the city about the Grand National. Everybody is talking about the Grand National, although they are playing Man City in a crunch game, on Sunday – until the Grand National is over on Saturday, all everyone is going to be talking about is the Grand National.

Did you manage to tip your 2007 winner to any locals?

Yeah, actually the year I won the Grand National the cabbie was asking me what I was riding and I told him, and he said ‘I’m stopping now on the way home to back it’ – so I hope he did! I didn’t get the same taxi back to the airport, but I hope he did. 

Everyone in Liverpool gets involved and if I’m in a restaurant having a meal or something, I think whoever serves me will probably back me in the Grand National. The same as if I’m in a taxi going out to the racecourse, that taxi driver is probably going to have a few quid on me in the Grand National – and that’s what the race is all about, everybody has their fancies for the Grand National and as we’ve seen time and time again, anybody can win the Grand National.

Was winning the Grand National a childhood dream come true?

From the moment I started to have thoughts about being a jockey, the Grand National was the race I always wanted to win. 

I was actually born in 1981, and the first horse I sat on was a horse called Aldaniti, who won the Grand National in 1981. He stayed in our yard when Bob Champion was doing a tour for cancer. Bob brought Aldaniti around the racecourse in Ireland and stayed at our place – the first ever picture of me in the house was of me sitting on Aldiniti as a ten-year-old champ. So that was the first Grand National winner I ever rode. 

Every year, from the start of the season, you’re thinking this could be a Grand National horse, or what can I have for the Grand National. It’s not something that starts the week before, it’s something that builds up from the start of the season, with what horse can I get on for the Grand National. 

How much of a Grand National success is down to luck and how much depends on the horse you ride?

The Grand National is the race we all want to win, and I was lucky enough to win it on my second attempt.

I think, because I won it so young, I now realise how lucky you need to be to win a Grand National and how much you need things to go your way on the day. 

I completed on my first start, in 2005, and won it on the second ride in 2007 – that’s 15 years ago. I’ve had at least 10 or 11 rides in the Grand National since, so I know how much luck is required to win a Grand National. 

You can always think every year you have a horse for the Grand National, but they’re unique fences and if your horse doesn’t take to them, you know by the time you get to Becher’s Brook the first time whether or not my chance is gone, or I’m going to struggle to get around here, or my horse isn’t really enjoying this. You kind of know your fate pretty early on in the Grand National, as to what kind of chance you’re going to have in the race. 

Are the fabled Grand National fences as fearsome as they once were?

I think the modifications have taken that fear away a little bit, but Becher’s Brook is still a daunting fence.

Fence number three in the Grand National is a great big ditch and that kind of sets your tone for the race.

Before the modifications, when I first rode over the National fences, the jump at Becher’s was an awful lot bigger and you’re inclined to keep well away from the inside of it because the drop was much bigger in there. But that’s been modified and it does make it an awful lot easier – you can chance more on the inside of Becher’s at not as high a risk, but it’s still a big fence and it still commands plenty of respect. 

How does your day-to-day visit to Liverpool look?

I fly in on Thursday and stay in a hotel outside of Liverpool. I don’t really make plans for Thursday evening as it’s almost straight to bed when I get in, check into the hotel and straight to bed. 

I ride in the Topham Chase on Friday, which is a nice warm-up for the Grand National, it gives you a feel for the fences the day before – which can be a good thing, or a bad thing, I’m not sure which. 

Friday evening again, it’s pretty quiet – myself and a couple of the other lads might go for dinner somewhere and that’s it then, it’s quiet enough. Just looking forward and studying through what your plan is for the big race the next day. 

We’ll all walk the course, nearly every jockey that rides in the Grand National will walk the course. I’ll walk it before the Topham [Chase] as I’m riding in the Topham and then I won’t walk it again after that. You’re walking more to check out the ground for your horse and find where the best ground on the track is, more so than anything else. It’s very straightforward to find your way around the Grand National – just knowing what fence is coming next is quite important as well.

With the big race at 5.15pm – does the day seem longer than a usual race day?

I actually find the day itself quite painful. We have to be at the racecourse for 12 o’clock, to have a briefing about the Grand National, which is something I think is totally unnecessary for professional jockeys. I think, if they want to do a briefing, it should be done the evening before – because having riders there from 12 o’clock, the Grand National is quarter past five, I actually think it makes riders more anxious an awful lot sooner than it needs to be. It’s not something you can do, you can’t pull out to the racecourse at 12 o’clock and then go back into your hotel and rest for a while.

It makes no sense to me having that briefing at 12 o’clock on the day. Why don’t they have it an hour before the race, or the evening before, so the jockeys can go home from the briefing and relax. It’s not ideal – the Liverpool players won’t be at the Etihad at 12 o’clock before a half four kick off on Sunday will they?

Does showing your horse the first fence really make a difference?

I don’t think so. I think it’s something mentally that you do, I don’t think it makes any difference showing the horse the fence. I just think it’s a thing that was done years and years ago and it has never changed – I don’t see that it makes any difference at all.

It’s kind of a superstition – if you don’t go down and show your horse the first fence and you fall, then you say ‘I should have shown him or her the fence’.

I don’t think it makes any difference at all.

Is your daughter still a fan of daddy – or have you lost out to Rachael Blackmore?

If I win a race now she thinks that Rachael [Blackmore] mustn’t have been in the race. She’s definitely more Rachael Blackmore than Robbie Power!

What is your prediction for Sunday’s game between Man City and Liverpool?

I think it will be a draw – 1-1 – which I think will be a good result for Liverpool as long as they don’t lose.

It’s a game that both teams don’t want to lose, so I can see a draw, but I hope I’m wrong and I hope it’s 2-1 to Liverpool. 

Tramore will be getting a wide berth on Sunday!