Though separated for the last three years by the Irish Sea, Brendan Powell junior and senior remain close and while the former has some way to go to match the riding exploits of his father, which included a Grand National triumph aboard Rhyme ‘N’ Reason, his role as stable jockey to Joe Tizzard looks sure to provide plenty more big-race opportunities
“There was a time when I wanted to be a footballer, but realistically racing was all I was ever going to do. I was only four or five when dad stopped riding and I don’t remember going racing with him much, but I’m pretty sure I was at Ayr when he won his second Scottish National on Young Kenny.
There were always ponies around and both of my parents were pretty influential in that respect. Dad was a jockey, then a trainer, and mum was also a very good horsewoman who rode a bit as an amateur and would take me and my sister Jenny off to shows at the weekend.
Mum and dad never pushed me, but they never discouraged me either. They were always there to guide me and give good advice.
I did a lot of showjumping as a kid and took it to a reasonably decent level, and then when I was 14 I went off to Ireland for a few months to spend the first of two summers with my godfather Adrian Maguire.
I did pony racing there at the weekends, and I think I rode about 25 winners. It was a great preparation for me and meant that by the time I was old enough to take out my amateur’s licence on the Flat I already knew a lot of the logistics about race-riding.
Dad was training then but everyone remembered him as a jockey and I felt I had big old shoes to fill, although I don’t think I ever thought that having the same name was any sort of a hindrance. In fact, having a dad as a trainer is a big leg up for a young jockey, as at least you know there will be a few rides to get you going.
Luckily I got off to a flying start. I rode a horse of dad’s called Edgeworth into second on the all-weather at Lingfield about three days after my sixteenth birthday, and then on my second ride I rode a winner for him at Southwell on one called Home.
A lot of my early rides were for dad, but I was never based with him. I think you learn a lot more when you go somewhere else. If you are at another yard, you don’t get treated like the trainer’s son, so you have to put the graft in to get on.
I was initially based at Jonjo O’Neill’s and went there as soon as I was 16 for six or seven months. I also had a spell with the late John Hills, during which I rode a winner for the Queen at Newmarket’s July Meeting, on Free Verse, trained by Richard Hannon senior.
I was quite light at the time and so rode successfully as an apprentice for a while, but I was quite tall too, and I didn’t want to ride out my claim on the Flat and then have to go jumping without one. I was lucky again when I went jumping, as that took off pretty quickly too.
I’ve sometimes wondered if I rode out my claim too quickly, but a jump jockey’s career can be quite short. When you are going well you don’t want to take your foot off the pedal. I was young and eager and all I wanted to do was to ride winners.
Dave Roberts was my agent at that time, and he did an amazing job, right up until he retired.
I rode a Cheltenham Festival winner – Golden Chieftain in the JLT for Colin Tizzard – when I was still claiming 3lb, and I think I was barely 19 when I lost the claim. My first season as a professional was good too, but then things dipped for a few seasons.
I’d had a lot of success at an early age and at the time I probably didn’t appreciate it. You don’t realise how tough it can be in this sport until you have to go through it yourself. Mum and dad had always tried to keep me grounded though when I was doing well, and they were there too when things weren’t so great.
Dad was there for advice on all of the bigger decisions, and even though he’s in Ireland now and busy himself I still speak to him just about every day.
He’ll quite often give an opinion on how a horse might be ridden, and he’s pretty good. He’s been there and done it himself, and when things don’t work out right, he can see it from a jockey’s point of view. He lives and breathes racing and misses nothing. He’s very sharp.
Dad was quite a forward rider and I suppose I am too. It will always depend on what I’m riding, but a lot of the horses I ride like to be up with the pace, and I quite enjoy riding a front runner and setting my own fractions. I’ve seen the videos of dad on Dublin Flyer and he used to be the same, although he wasn’t a one-dimensional rider by any means.
The Tizzards have always been massive for me too. Colin and Joe have both supported me the whole way through and I’ve ridden a lot of winners for them, including some big ones.
They were the ones who really got me going over jumps, but I went through three or four seasons when I barely rode a winner for them. At the time a lot of the owners wanted to use the best available, and there was a stage when a few things weren’t going right for me and I didn’t win on a few horses who I probably should have done. I probably wasn’t mature enough to deal with those days the way I should have done.
Things weren’t going great for dad either at that time, and he packed up training and went back to Ireland to work for Joseph O’Brien, but he was always there with support and advice. He’d always drummed into me growing up that it wouldn’t always go well, but that so long as I kept my head down and my mouth shut and kept on grafting, there’d be a good chance it would come right again.
You need a bit of luck along the way of course – maybe just being in the right place at the right time – but just trying to do things to the best of your ability all the time plays a massive part and they were always very supportive.
There were a couple of seasons when I stopped riding out for the Tizzards, but then I had a spare morning when we were racing at Wincanton and I thought I’d just pop down there. It was a schooling day and I rode out a few, then a couple of days later Colin put me up on a spare.
I went back a couple of weeks later, and then carried on popping in and out when I could, but it was at the time when Robbie Power was there, going back and forth from Ireland, and Harry Cobden and Jonjo junior were riding quite a few too, so there weren’t many spares.
Then a couple of years ago I decided to make going down there every other Wednesday a regular thing, while still maintaining my contacts with the other trainers I was riding for, and I started to pick up a few more rides.
I had quite a few seconds, and then Princess Midnight won at Wincanton right at the end of the season and that led to me having quite a lot of luck for them in the summer.
Robbie had gone by that time and I think Colin and Joe had seen that I’d grown up a lot, so when Joe approached to say they were quite keen to use me more it seemed a really good opportunity for me.
Since then it’s gone really well, and I have to pinch myself. Last season was my best, with 65 winners and nice prizemoney, and this season has started well too. It’s fantastic to be back riding for them regularly.
It’s great to see dad so happy in his new role in Ireland too. He had a great career as a jockey, winning some of the biggest races in the calendar, and he had a great career too as a trainer, with more than 600 winners.
His knowledge of horses is second to none. What he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing, and he wouldn’t be working for Joseph if that wasn’t the case.
He’ll probably always be one up on me as a jockey through having ridden a Grand National winner, but you never know. I’ll hopefully have plenty more opportunities, and I couldn’t be with a better stable. with impressive handicap chase win”
“The days of Rhyme ’N’ Reason and Panto Prince were behind me by the time ‘B’ was born in January 1995, but I had another five years as a jockey and there were some nice wins still to come thanks to horses like Dublin Flyer and Young Kenny, and also to the big team Bob Buckler had at the time.
B seems to remember being at Ayr when Young Kenny won the Scottish National, and he was definitely at Hereford on the day I retired as the whole family came, including my mum and dad, and the racecourse put on a little party.
I’d come back to ride for about three months after a bad fall at Newton Abbot that summer, but I never felt the same. Bottle-wise I’d say I was still 100 per cent, but every time I had a fall it hurt for a week.
B never had the most expensive ponies but rode to a nice standard, his mum taking him here, there and everywhere. It was only later though that he decided he wanted to be a jockey. I just don’t think he was that interested in riding racehorses – he was too busy pursuing other sports.
I’ve never played football in my life, but as soon as B started he was very good, playing for a local team down Southampton way. Then he tried cricket at school and was brilliant at it, and when he picked up a golf club he had the most natural swing you’ve ever seen. Everything he tried he was just a natural, and he was competitive whatever he did.
I think he got the racing bug after we had a conversation about what jockeys could earn, as he’s always been very money orientated. Anyway, he got the bug and started riding out, and then when he was 14 or so he went to Ireland for the first of two summers with Adrian Maguire and with the Linehan family, who were like a second family to him.
Pony racing in Ireland helped him massively. It taught him such a lot and when he had his first rides for me under Rules people couldn’t believe how good he looked.
I sent him to Jonjo’s for six months and he learned a hell of a lot there too, and he also spent time with John Hills before he took the bull by the horns and went jumping with the Tizzards.
I think he learned a lot on the jumping side from his mother Rachel, because of the showjumping, but also learned a lot schooling for me and the Tizzards. I’d like to think I taught him a lot about race-riding.
He’s lucky in having a very natural side to his jockeyship. I wasn’t a natural by any means and so I had to work hard at it after both Jenny Pitman and David Gandolfo told me I’d never make it, but if you watch B going round in a chase or a hurdle you won’t see him move very much at an obstacle. He’s an instinct rider and horses seem to jump well for him without him making a lot of effort.
When B hit a quiet spell, it was at a time I was packing up, so I could only give him limited help. Things with Colin seemed to turn a bit sour – Golden Chieftain fell at the last when clear in the Midlands National and there were one or two other things – and he went and did his own thing for a while.
While it’s a great sport when everything is going well, we all know what a tough game it can be when they are not. Everybody hits a difficult patch somewhere along the line. I found that out for myself when I was riding, and I always told B just to keep his head down. Doors will shut, but if you keep working away at it, others will open.
The best thing that ever happened to him was getting back with the Tizzards. I kept saying to him ‘why don’t you go down to Colin’s and ride out one day’, and in the end he did. I remember him ringing not long afterwards to say Colin had booked him for a couple.
It went great for him down there last season and he’s got a great relationship with Joe, who had been stable jockey to me for a couple of seasons.
We still speak most days. No matter where I am, I still take a close interest in racing in Britain and obviously take a particular interest in horses which B rides.
I don’t criticise as such, but we discuss every ride. In his younger days, when I was training, he might not have taken my opinions that well and would say something like ‘I suppose it would have run better if you were riding it’, but he takes them a lot better nowadays. He’s grown up a lot and I couldn’t be happier with the way things are going for him.”