Robbie Power had ridden in the Grand National just once before he got the leg up on SILVER BIRCH in the race in 2007.
“It was great to get the call up ride Spot Thedifference in the race in 2005,” recalls Power. “He was a legend of a horse. And he gave me a great ride. I was only 23, he was a great ride for a young rider. He jumped around great, and we completed. It was brilliant. But then, after you get around, the next time you just want to do better.”
Power rode Silver Birch for the first time over Punchestown’s banks in February 2007, when the pair of them stayed on well to finish second to Heads Onthe Ground in the PP Hogan Chase. He didn’t ride him at the Cheltenham Festival the following month, however. It was Jason Maguire who rode him there, when he again finished second to Heads Onthe Ground in the Cross-Country Chase. And Jason Maguire probably would have ridden him in the Grand National too had he not been claimed by his boss Donald McCain for Idle Talk.
“Gordon called me and told me that I could ride him in the Grand National, that Jason wasn’t available. I was thrilled. I had other options in the race, but I was delighted to ride Silver Birch. He had won a Welsh National and a Becher Chase, he was a great ride to get.”
Silver Birch was an outsider in the 2007 Grand National. It had been over two years since he had won the Becher Chase and the Welsh National, he had spent over a year on the sidelines in the interim, and he hadn’t won a race since he had won that Welsh National. As well as that, he was trained by a little-known trainer named Gordon Elliott, who hadn’t yet trained a winner in Ireland.
“I knew Gordon growing up,” says Power. “He was doing great with point-to-pointers, and he was very good at placing his horses then, just like he is now. He would have known how good his horses were at the time, and if he didn’t have a horse who was good enough to win a maiden hurdle in Ireland, he found races for them in England that they could win.
“And we fancied Silver Birch. We really did think he had a chance. He did a piece of work before the National with Salford City, a decent two-mile hurdler. Joey Elliott rode Salford City, and Gordon told him to be sure the stay beside me and Silver Birch. But it was the other way around, it was all I could do to keep Silver Birch from going away from Salford City. Gordon told me afterwards that that was the best piece of work that Silver Birch had ever done, and that obviously gave me a lot of hope. You couldn’t be thinking that you were going to win the Grand National or anything, but we knew that we weren’t just going for a bit of fun.”
Power’s first Grand National memory is West Tip and Richard Dunwoody winning it in 1986. His dad gave him a pound to have on something, so he had 50 pence each-way on West Tip. The local bookmaker in Summerhill paid him out in 50 pence pieces. He thought that he had won the lottery.
“The build-up to a Grand National it just like the build up to any big race in lots of ways,” he says, “but it is also different in lots of ways. The atmosphere in the weighing room is great. People are getting their racecards signed, even the jockeys, they want to have their racecards signed by everyone who is riding in the race. You could sign 50 racecards before the race. Then you have the parade and everything. You just want to get on with it. It’s great then when the groom lets you off and you are on your way down to the start with your horse.”
Silver Birch jumped off well and quickly got himself into a nice rhythm. He jumped the first two fences well, then soared over the third, the big ditch. When he did, Power knew that he was in business.
“I had never had a horse jump a fence like that before.”
Silver Birch jumped his way there, moved into fourth or fifth. His rider didn’t have to ask him. He made his ground towards the leaders relatively effortlessly.
There were a couple of hairy moments. It’s not a Grand National if there are not hairy moments. Royal Auclair fell in front of him at Valentine’s first time, and it could have been curtains.
“I saw Royal Auclair falling, and I thought, ah here we go, race over. There was nothing we could do. But he fell to the side instead of falling straight out in front of us, and Silver Birch was able to side-step him. It’s luck like that that you need in a National.”
Becher’s second time, Bewley’s Berry fell when in front, fired Paddy Brennan to his left into Silver Birch’s path but, again, Silver Birch danced around him. Then they got serious. Then the winning of the race became a real possibility.
“I was tracking Barry (Geraghty) and Slim Pickings at the third last, but he seemed to be going better than us, and he seemed to quicken away from us. Then we winged the second last and I knew that we could win it.”
They also winged the last, and Robbie Power put his head down and drove for the line.
“He was running around a little on the run from the Elbow. I thought that we had Barry beaten, but I could hear the commentator saying that there was something else coming at us towards the stands side. I could hear the commentary as clear as anything. All I could do was drive forward, but I’m sure that Silver Birch saw McKelvey out of the corner of his eye, and he picked up again.
“When we hit the line I looked over and saw that we were in front. We had won the Grand National. That was an incredible feeling. Impossible to describe. I’d say it wasn’t until about five or six strides after the line that I really realised what had just happened. It was all very surreal. And it took ages for it to sink in. I’m not sure that it has sunk in yet.”