Tributes flow as 'genius' Carberry waves goodbye
Paul Carberry, arguably the most naturally gifted jumps jockey of all time, has admitted defeat to injury and called time on an amazing career at the age of 42.
Fellow Meath men Noel Meade and Barry Geraghty led the tributes to their long-term friend, widely regarded as a supreme stylist and genius in the saddle.
Absent from the track since suffering a broken leg at Listowel last September, Carberry had held out hope that he might engineer one last injury comeback but a visit to his surgeon yesterday prompted him to announce his retirement.
Carberry has had a lengthy career by the standards of a National Hunt rider, especially considering the multitude of injuries he suffered, but that made it no easier for him to finally admit defeat. However, his retirement coming a matter of weeks after the death through injury of John Thomas McNamara will affirm the reality that it could be much worse.
"I had my doubts when I visited the surgeon, as I was still feeling weak riding out, and he told me that my leg was not strong enough; it was not fully healed yet. I kind of had a sick feeling in my stomach," Carberry explained.
Perhaps the Meath man's greatest day, particularly on a personal level, was when guiding Bobbyjo - trained by his father Tommy - to Aintree Grand National glory in 1999.
He rode his first winner in 1990 and his last when Jansboy scored at Listowel at the beginning of the festival that would be his last as a rider 11 months ago.
Champion apprentice on the Flat with 27 winners in 1993, Carberry rode 14 winners at the Cheltenham Festival. His relationship with the enigmatic hurdler Harchibald, for long-time boss Meade, was one of the most compelling alliances of jumps racing this century.
Though a winner of five Grade 1 races, the pair failed to win at Cheltenham, infamously runner-up to Hardy Eustace in the 2005 Champion Hurdle. Carberry was criticised for that ride, waiting until as late as possible to ask Harchibald, which found very little for pressure, to overtake Hardy Eustace.
"The rides I look back on fondly are winning on Frenchman's Creek and Crackaway Jack at the Festival, Monbeg Dude in the Welsh National and Harchibald in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton," he said yesterday. "I suppose Harchibald will be remembered for the wrong reasons and Bobbyjo the right ones. Bobbyjo was special as I'd always wanted to win the Grand National."
A brother of top amateur Nina and former rider Philip and a nephew of trainer Arthur Moore, Carberry's only win in the four championship races at Cheltenham was when Solwhit snared the World Hurdle for Charles Byrnes in 2013. However, he says he has "little or no regrets".
"My wife Rachel will be disappointed, my kids will be delighted," he said. "I'm happy with the career I had, hope to stay riding hunting, as well as buying and selling horses."
Geraghty expects his friend to be busy despite his departure from the weighing-room. "Paul is happiest when on a horse and between pre-training and hunting, he'll be fine in the future. He goes out in one piece and that is the main thing," said JP McManus' retained rider.
"He was simply brilliant, nobody had a better pair of hands - the best hands I ever saw to settle a horse. There was not much between the top four or five, he was among them and possibly the best of them all in that everything came so naturally to him - getting one to settle, jump and the rest.
"Bobbyjo was something else. The fences were much tougher then, and he also came down to the last riding shorter than Frankie Dettori.
"He's a class act on and off the track. We've been travelling together for years and you would not get a bloke more sound - a good winner and a good loser.
"It was great to see him winning the World Hurdle on Solwhit later in his career - showing his wares in top company again - and he has had a great career. You can't push the boat out too far. He leaves maybe not on his own terms but it could be worse."
Meade, Carberry's ally for almost his entire career and trainer of Harchibald, admitted that it was a "sad day which I knew would come at some stage".
"I'll miss him. He was unique, a one-off. He was as good a rider as we have seen. We had our ups and downs, but it was mainly good, and we rarely had a disagreement. He was with me from the age of 16 until now. I understood his way of thinking about horses.
"Some of the rides on Harchibald were phenomenal, especially the day he beat Rooster Booster at Kempton. He was an extremely good Flat rider too, even though he had no interest in it.
"He'd settled down a lot in the past couple of years. We've been great friends and always will be and I couldn't say a bad word about him."
Carberry's career was not without its controversies. In 2005, he was arrested and charged over an incident which took place on board a flight from Málaga to Dublin, when he reportedly set fire to a newspaper. A two-month jail sentence was reduced on appeal to community service.
In 2009, he was suspended for 30 days by the Referrals Committee of the Turf Club after he failed an alcohol breath test at Naas.
However, he will be remembered by racing fans for his brilliance on the track.