Monday 22 July 2019

Tommy Carberry

Jump racing legend who defied the odds to ride and train Grand National winners, writes Liam Collins

Born to ride: Tommy Carberry back in the saddle in 1999 on Grand National winner Bobbyjo in the village of Rathoath. Photo: PA
Born to ride: Tommy Carberry back in the saddle in 1999 on Grand National winner Bobbyjo in the village of Rathoath. Photo: PA
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

It was ironic that racing legend Tommy Carberry, who died last week at the age of 75, made his name on a horse called L'Escargot, or The Snail when translated from French.

He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the Dan Moore-trained horse in 1970 and 1971 and went on to complete a unique double for owner Raymond Guest, a former United States Ambassador to Ireland, when he won the Grand National at Aintree, Liverpool, in 1975 on the 12-year-old mount.

However L'Escargot and Tommy Carberry were probably among the least popular winners of the most famous steeplechase in the world that year, on account of beating the Ginger McCain-trained Red Rum, the darling of the British public, into second place and denying him a coveted Grand National hat-trick.

Although Carberry would later describe L'Escargot as "a very good horse" he reserved his special praise for his other famous mount Brown Lad, trained by Jim Draper, and winner of three Irish Grand Nationals, although Carberry only rode him in two (1975/76), whom he called "a proper steed".

Carberry would go on to complete his own unique double when he trained Bobbyjo to win the 1999 Grand National, ridden by his son Paul, one of the Carberry racing dynasty that includes Philip, Peter and Nina, who have all carved out successful careers for themselves in horse racing.

Born near Rathoath, Co Meath on September 15, 1941 he was steeped in racing and during his apprenticeship with Dan Moore he rode his first winner in 1958 and was champion apprentice in 1959.

He married Moore's daughter Pamela in 1970 and although he was to ride many of his father-in-law's horses he was to became inextricably linked with L'Escargot, which along with Golden Miller has the distinction of winning National Hunt's two most prestigious prizes, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National.

A bit chestnut horse with a white star, L'Escargot was bought by Raymond Guest, a cousin of Winston Churchill and an American businessman, politician and polo player who served as US Ambassador to Ireland from 1965 to 1968, and sent for training at Dan Moore's yard in Co Kildare.

Guest, owner of the Vincent O'Brien-trained blue bloods Larkspur, winner of The Derby (1962) and Sir Ivor (1968), was anxious to join only two previous owners who had won both The Derby and the Grand National and according to trainer Arthur Moore had been sending his father several horses with that intention in mind, "but none of them were much good".

In an article by Steve Dennis in the Racing Post, Arthur Moore said his father then told Guest: "Instead of buying one to win it, you already have one in the yard who might.

It was L'Escargot."

After a less than inspiring campaign he was sent to America where he was successful in a number of races before being lined up for the 1970 Cheltenham Gold Cup as a 33/1 outsider.

Tommy Carberry bet a bottle of beer with Timmy Hyde, riding the favourite Kinloch Brae, that he would win, and when Hyde's mount fell at the third last L'Escargot won by a length-and-a-half from French Tan.

He won his second Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1971 easily, coming in 10 lengths ahead of Leap Frog and The Dickler who would win it in 1973, in third.

However "everything went wrong" the following year and he came fourth in 1973 before the owner and trainer shifted their attention to winning the Grand National. A non-finisher at the first attempt, he came third in 1973 and second in 1974 to Red Rum.

At 13/2 second favourite the big money was on Red Rum to complete a hat-trick in 1975.

There was also the smallest crowd in memory at Aintree that year because the new owners of the track had hiked entry prices significantly.

In receipt of 11lbs and in muddy conditions, which he loved, L'Escargot "hacked up" to win by 15 lengths and dash the hopes of the British public, although Red Rum did come back two years later to win his third Grand National.

After resounding celebrations in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, L'Escargot ran once more - coming second in the Kerry National - before being spirited off to the United States by his owner, where he died at the age of 21.

Tommy Carberry had already completed a memorable double the same year when he rode Ten Up for Anne, Duchess of Westminster, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He also rode Tied Cottage to win the race in 1980, but was disqualified after a banned substance from a contaminated horse feed was detected in a dope test.

Along with victories on Brown Lad, Tommy Carberry was overall jockey champion (flat and National Hunt) twice and champion jockey over fences three times in the 1970s.

He retired in 1982 after a bad fall at Listowel and began training near Rathoath. He trained Bobbyjo to win the 1999 Grand National the year after it won the Irish National.

"It was fantastic to see him train Bobbyjo to win the National," said trainer and friend Noel Meade last week.

"He didn't have many bullets to fire as a trainer, and to win one of the greatest races of all was fantastic. To have Paul riding him made it all the more special, and it was just a magical day."

Tommy Carberry, who had been in ill-health for some time, died last Wednesday at Kilbrew Demesne Nursing Home in Co Meath. He is survived by his wife Pamela and his children Thomas, Paul, Mark, Philip, Nina and Peter Jon.

His funeral takes place in Rathoath at 12.30pm today

Sunday Independent

The Throw-In: Kerry back to their best, Connolly’s return and Cork’s baffling inconsistency

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport