An outstanding horseman who influenced racing over decades

Obituary: Tommy Carberry; born September 15th, 1941 - died July 12th, 2017

Tommy Carberry with Bobbyjo. From his small stables near Ratoath, Co Meath, Carberry produced Bobbyjo to win the Aintree Grand National in 1999. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Tommy Carberry with Bobbyjo. From his small stables near Ratoath, Co Meath, Carberry produced Bobbyjo to win the Aintree Grand National in 1999. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

 

Tommy Carberry, who died on July 12th aged 75, is acknowledged as one of the outstanding National Hunt jockeys in Irish racing history. Yet his exploits in the saddle are only partly the story of an outstanding overall horseman.

Champion rider over jumps four years in a row from 1973 to 1976, his versatility extended to winning the Group One Joe McGrath Memorial Stakes – now the Irish Champion Stakes – for the legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien on the flat in 1979.

Whether it was winning the Aintree Grand National on L’Escargot in 1975, or a five-furlong sprint up the Curragh, if the horse was good enough no one doubted Carberry’s ability to conjure a winning performance out of it.

Having retired from riding in 1982, Carberry began training. A year later he won the Kerry National at Listowel with Royal Appointment. However, it was the most famous “national” of all which came to be regarded as his crowning glory.

From his small stables near Ratoath in Co Meath, Carberry produced Bobbyjo to win the Aintree Grand National in 1999.That Bobbyjo was ridden by his son Paul, and the victory bridged a 24-year gap back to L’Escargot for an Irish-trained winner of the world’s most famous steeplechase, indicated the sweep of Carberry’s influence on racing over decades.

Bobbyjo’s Aintree victory crowned a career of colossal individual achievement but the exploits of Carberry’s family continued to exert an influence on the sport.

Paul Carberry retired from race-riding in 2016 after a long, successful and occasionally turbulent career. Last month his brother Philip, a Champion Hurdle winning rider, also retired from the saddle. Their sister Nina is still one of Ireland’s outstanding amateur riders and a pioneer for female jockeys.

All three rode winners of the Irish Grand National – a race their father won twice on Brown Lad in 1975-76 – at the Fairyhouse track close to where Carberry was brought up.

Festival winners

A champion apprentice jockey on the flat in 1959, the first of Carberry’s 16 Cheltenham festival winners came in 1962 on board Tripacer. The horse was trained by his father-in-law Dan Moore. Twenty years later his final Cheltenham winner, The Brockshee, was trained by Moore’s son Arthur.

In between Carberry won almost every major Cheltenham prize at least once. Inkslinger won the Champion Chase in 1973. Brown Lad (1975) and Town Ship (1977) landed the Stayers Hurdle, but three Gold Cup victories were the highlight.

L’Escargot, the horse owned by the American ambassador to Ireland Raymond Guest, won steeplechases’ “Blue Riband” in both 1970 and 1971. Ten Up carried the Arkle colours of the Duchess of Westminster to success in 1975.

Carberry was also first past the post in the 1980 Gold Cup, but Tied Cottage was later disqualified after failing a dope test.

However, despite Cheltenham glory, and significant successes on the flat that also included the Beresford Stakes on Just A Game in 1978, it’s the Aintree National that will always be the most evocative chapter of a storied career.

The by-then veteran L’Escargot was something of a National spoilsport in 1975. Placed in the race twice before, L’Escargot denied Red Rum a hat-trick, bounding clear in the closing stages to eventually win by 15 lengths. Almost a quarter of a century later the story got a perfect ending.

Paul Carberry had only been born the year before L’Escargot’s National but later recalled: “From an early age, myself and my brothers had watched reruns of Dad winning the Grand National...It was the ultimate achievement in racing.”

Famous fences

Bobbyjo had won the Irish Grand National in 1998, and was a 10-1 shot to win at Aintree. However, no Irish-trained horse had won over the famous fences since L’Escargot. Nevertheless the colourful father-son team bridged the gap in style as Bobbyjo won by 10 lengths.

It meant Tommy Carberry joined one of racing’s most exclusive clubs, becoming just the fifth man to both ride and train a Grand National winner. Immediately after the race he described the feeling of training a National winner as “lot, lot better” than riding one.

There were exuberant celebrations afterwards which could be said to have deflected a little from the scale of Carberry’s achievement considering Bobbyjo was one of just 15 horses he had in training at the time.

The victory heralded an unprecedented run of Irish success in the Aintree National with five more victories for horses trained here over the following eight years.

Carberry had suffered ill health in recent months, and died in Curragha Nursing Home in Co Meath. His passing came only two days after the death of another legendary former champion jockey Martin Molony.

A hugely popular figure within racing, Carberry was aptly described as a “marvellous horseman and a great jockey” by Frank Berry with whom he shared the Irish jockeys championship in 1975.

Tommy Carberry is survived by his widow Pamela, sons Thomas, Paul, Philip, Mark and Peter Jon, and daughter Nina.