Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 19 January 2020

Billy Keane: The end is just the beginning, even for the man inside the crisp packet

Paul Carberry with his daughter Kasey Lou after announcing his retirement.
Picture Credit: Healy Racing
Paul Carberry with his daughter Kasey Lou after announcing his retirement. Picture Credit: Healy Racing
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

They were the words he never wanted to hear: "Sorry Paul but you're not going to race again." Paul Carberry was heartbroken.

Some jockeys never get over giving up; more realise the end is just the beginning. Where does Paul fit in?

We had a talk just after the bad news. "The leg is too weak. That's it. I'm gutted"

There are two contrasting emotions when jockeys retire. The first is the sense of relief that the rider is getting out upright.

Most National Hunt jockeys carry the reminders of every blow that struck them. None of them escape serious injury. Some die. More end up in a wheelchair.

We think of Mark Nugent. Today a massive bike tribute, organised by friends and colleagues, takes place for Mark, in his home town of Maynooth.

Mark was paralysed from the chest down in accident yet he has kept up his spirits and those of his family. He was a fine sportsman who worked for Mondelez Ireland, and now his house needs to be adapted.

The human spirit can overcome all. The love of friends and family keeps Mark going, and his own good humour lifts all around him. What a man. We have so little to complain about. Check out cycleformark on Facebook.

Most of our jockeys who survive are like your favourite mug, cracked and chipped but still held together, just about.

Young jockeys seldom think of the future or complications like arthritis. It's about the here and now.

The jockey who thinks too much about the future loses his confidence. Most of the older jockeys do think of the future because the future is so close.

Ruby Walsh, who has so much courage, says Paul was the bravest of them all. He went hunting, riding full-on for hours over muddy fields and jumping wide ditches and high hedges on his days off.

We first met in our pub more than 20 years ago. He had the look of man who was always trying to burst out of a crisp bag.

There was a day out in Newbridge fadó fadó. The genial genius Norman Williamson told us Paul had to ride out for Noel Meade the next morning. We refused to take him to Kerry.

"We're getting a puncture," said the limo driver 50 miles south of Newbridge. He pulled in. There was a banging in the boot. Paul was a stowaway.

There was the time he set fire to a fellow passenger's newspaper on a plane. The judge, a sensible man, gave the jockey a chance. There was no malice. It was just a thoughtless prank.

In fact I would go so far to say there's no badness of any kind in Paul, but when he came in to my pub I was always on the look-out. You'd never know what he'd get up to.

He was a climber. Before you'd know it Paul could be hanging of the ceiling like a bat or swinging of a high beam like a gymnast. Paul just had to be doing something.

The jockeys were full of their fun back then. Must have been the antidote to going to work every day with two ambulances following you around.

Those days are nearly gone. The young jockeys are more careful of the drink.

Paul has managed the drink well in recent years. For a while, the drink managed him. He was done for being over the jockey drink riding limit.

His retaining trainer Meade often lost patience but he never lost faith. And Paul repaid him in full with impossible wins no-one else could have managed to bring off.

Paul was an energy saver. There will never be another jockey who could sit so easily on a horse and as if by osmosis transmit the calm from the saddle down.

He knows instinctively how to bond with a horse. It could be a look in the eyes or a pat on the neck or a word. The horses like and trust him.

Paul could ride them from the front, or from the rear, but it was as a hold-up jockey he was at his very best.

I met a man one day in Gowran and he was cellotaping a docket. "That Carberry," he said, "I was sure he was beaten. He was a half a fence behind. I don't know how he got up."

There was no better judge of pace. He was a natural who trusted his own inner homing pigeon.

On one of our better days we wrote: "The Carberry babies were riding horses when kids from outside the racing world were strapped in to high chairs and silenced with soothers. Most kids back then were baby-sat by the nannies known as the Teletubbies. Nina and Paul Carberry were minded by ponies."

I often wonder how it is the parents of jockeys from the famous racing families who know the dangers allow their kids to become part of the one of the most dangerous sports of all.

It's the love of the horses I suppose and the friendships made in the weigh-room. And it's a career.

There's a freedom in the early mornings on the gallops most of us who were trapped inside that Tayto bag will never experience. Paul was always in thrall to the thrill of it all. The kids make their own choices.

"Your best day, Paul?" He doesn't do long sentences. "Bobbyjo. Had to be Bobbyjo."

It was the 1999 Aintree Grand National and Bobbyjo was trained by Paul's dad Tommy.

Paul said goodnight at nine the night before. A sure tip.

He hunted Bobbyjo around early on, always saving fuel by taking the short cuts and gaps only the best jockeys can see or are brave enough to navigate.

There were six in contention jumping the last. Bobbyjo had expended less energy on the way round. He pulled away at The Elbow and won by 10 lengths.

Tommy said the win meant more than when he rode L'Escargot to win the national 34 years earlier. L'Escargot was trained by Paul's grandad Dan Moore.

The father and son paraded the horse through their home place in Meath. Paul's comment was: "It can't get any better than that."

That's the challenge isn't it? Life has to get better.

Paul finished his career on the very same track where Tommy ended his after a fall on the flat. It was Listowel.

I met Paul the night before his last ride and he told me: "I'm not going to retire any time soon."

He's finding the ending tough enough right now.

Paul is busy breaking horses. It took a while to break Paul in.

It was a sunny day at the Listowel June meeting a few years back. "Will we make an evening of it?" we asked. "No," said Paul "we're going to the beach in Ballybunion."

It was then I met Rachel for the first time and what struck me most aside from the good looks was how much she was enjoying being with Paul.

It was the greatest training performance in the history of racing. The calming of Paul Carberry. In a very rare serious moment he said: "She's the love of my life."

Saved then he was by the love of good woman, but the innate kindness and empathy was always there.

One of his nearest and dearest said: "Paul isn't selfish in any way. He's quiet and thinks a lot and he's the best father there has ever been."

I always knew about the best father bit. Paul never killed the inner boy. He's a child at heart, which is no bad thing, and keeps a kid's goodness deep within.

Paul can still be a bold boy at times but not too bold we hope. We have much in common.

"I'm not going to train," he said earlier in the week, but I'm not so sure. There was a hint when we spoke that he might follow his dad and grandfather.

Is he ready for retirement? I think he'll be fine but it might take time. He loves his family too much to give in now.

And everyone loves Paul Carberry.

Irish Independent

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