Monday 26 February 2018

Achievements of our truly great horsemen stand test of time

Jockey Tommy Carberry Carberry, who died on Wednesday at the age of 75. Photo: Connolly Collection/Sportsfile
Jockey Tommy Carberry Carberry, who died on Wednesday at the age of 75. Photo: Connolly Collection/Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

Tommy Carberry, who died on Wednesday at the age of 75, is one of those sporting personalities, like Pat McQuaid, Pat Kirby, Sean Drea or Paul Darragh, whose prominence in the seventies is somewhat forgotten now.

Quite simply he was the most famous jockey in the country back then. I can remember 1975 when there was a titanic battle between himself and Frank Berry for the Irish title. It was a bit like a jockeys' version of the recent Willie Mullins-Gordon Elliott fight for the trainers crown, and like that one went to the very last day of the season.

If memory serves me correctly, Berry moved one ahead during the final meeting before Carberry pegged him back by giving Brown Lad a superb ride to overcome Prolan, ridden by that year's third-placer Mick Morris, in the feature event of the day. I followed this contest through the newspapers and also on radio, where RTé seemed to cover an awful lot of races back then. One of the signal sounds of my childhood is the silky-smooth sound of Val Joyce on 'Airs and Races' overcoming the crackles on the car radio in our Morris Oxford.

During the first half of the seventies Carberry seemed omnipresent in the headlines. He piloted L'Escargot to beat Red Rum in the 1975 Grand National, a race which attracted huge attention because the runner-up was going for the three-in-a-row; Rummy finally achieved a third win in the great race two years later. I was too young to register Carberry's Cheltenham Gold Cup victories in 1970 and 1971 but I do remember his triumph in the same race on Ten Up for Jim Dreaper in 1974. There wasn't the same amount of hype surrounding Cheltenham then and Irish victories were much rarer but that very rarity meant each one of them seemed a little national triumph in itself.

The one horse I'll always associate with Carberry is Brown Lad, another seminal seventies figure whose lustre seems to have faded somewhat over the decades. Another Jim Dreaper horse, Brown Lad was all-conquering on home soil, winning an unprecedented three Irish Grand Nationals in 1975, 1976 and 1978 with Carberry on board for the first two victories and Gerry Dowd for the last.

There was something angular and durable about Carberry's appearance which seemed to epitomise the qualities necessary for success as a jump jockey. He won three Irish titles before being succeeded on top of the pile by Berry, his rival from 1975. Carberry had succeeded Bobby Coonan, who had reigned in the second half of the sixties. Before that came Bobby Beasley and Pat Taaffe and before them came Martin Molony, who won six titles in a row between 1946 and 1951.

Molony died last week at the age of 91 and his story is to an extent one of what might have been. He had to retire early from the sport, at the age of just 26, due to injuries suffered in a fall at Thurles.

The great Pat Taaffe was 37 before he managed to break Molony's title record. When Martin Molony was winning the Irish title in 1949, 1950 and 1951, his brother Tim was doing the same over in England. That's a family record which is very unlikely to be beaten.

Martin's biggest victory was also one of his narrowest as he got Silver Fame home by a short head in the 1951 Gold Cup. The previous year he had ridden Dominicks Bar to beat Vincent O'Brien's three-time Gold Cup winner Cottage Rake in the Irish Grand National. There were another two Grand Nationals and also wins in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Oaks and 1,000 Guineas, another double distinction unlikely to be emulated any time soon. His greatest year was perhaps 1949 when he rode 96 National Hunt winners in Ireland, a record which stood for 43 years before being surpassed by Charlie Swan.

After retiring, Molony set up the Rathmore Stud in his native Limerick which is now run by his son Peter. The Martin Molony Stakes at Limerick, whose winners have included horses trained by Aidan O'Brien, Jim Bolger, John Oxx and Dermot Weld, is a fitting tribute to his memory.

The excellence of Irish jump jockeys is proverbial in England these days, and it was the Molonys along with the likes of Tim Hyde and Aubrey Brabazon who blazed a trail in the forties and fifties.

Tommy Carberry was a worthy inheritor of that tradition and there were striking similarities between his career and that of Martin Molony. Not only did both win the Irish champion jockey title, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Irish Grand National but Carberry was also a fine Flat jockey who in 1979 won the Joe McGrath Memorial Stakes, later the Irish Champion Stakes, on Fordham for Vincent O'Brien. He too was forced into retirement after a fall, in 1982 at Listowel, and became a trainer.

Perhaps the sweetest victory of all for Carberry as a trainer came when his son Paul won the Grand National on Bobbyjo in 1999, on one of the great emotional Aintree afternoons.

Irish racing lost two real giants last week.

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