Tommy Carberry: Irish ‘broth of a boy’ who won the Grand National as jockey and trainer

Trainer Tommy Carberry celebrates with Grand National winner Bobbyjo in his home village of Ratoath, north of Dublin.
Trainer Tommy Carberry celebrates with Grand National winner Bobbyjo in his home village of Ratoath, north of Dublin.
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Tommy Carberry, Grand National winner as both jockey and trainer. Born: 27 September, 1941, in Ratoath, Co Meath, Ireland. Died: 12 July, 2017, in Ashbourne, Co Meath, Ireland, aged 75.

In 1975, Tommy Carberry broke the hearts of almost everyone at Aintree and those millions watching on television as he brilliantly steered L’Escargot to win the Grand National ahead of the hat-trick seeking favourite Red Rum.

At the fence after Becher’s Brook on the first circuit, L’Escargot almost came down but Carberry somehow stayed in the saddle and recovered the partnership steadily, so that over the final three fences L’Escargot and Red Rum, who had finished second and first in that order the previous year, jumped the obstacles together in front.

Red Rum’s jockey Brian Fletcher later recounted that he looked over and saw that L’Escargot had plenty in the tank, and Carberry duly booted the Dan Moore-trained horse home to win by 15 lengths from Rummie, who finally did get that record third victory in 1977.

The 1975 win made ­Carberry the first jockey ever to win the Aintree and Irish Grand Nationals and Cheltenham Gold Cup, as the ­legendary commentator Peter O’Sullevan noted at the finish, but that achievement was lost in the global dismay at Red Rum’s defeat.

It says a great deal about ­Carberry and his native charm that not only did National followers forgive him, but there was no more popular winner as a trainer than when ­Carberry sent out Bobbyjo to win the 1999 National, with the jockey that day being son Paul. It was the first Irish-trained winner of the world’s greatest steeplechase since Carberry and L’Escargot won 24 years previously.

It was proof, as if any was needed, that Carberry was a natural horseman, equally at home in the saddle or supervising the horses on the gallops at his stables near Ratoath.

It was a talent Carberry had displayed from a very young age on the family farm. He was just 15 when he was apprenticed as a Flat jockey to the trainer Jimmy Lenehan at the Curragh, for whom he rode his first winner, Ben Beoch in 1958. He was champion apprentice on the Irish Flat in 1959 before moving to the yard of Dan Moore near Fairyhouse, home of the Irish Grand National.

Wiry, strong Carberry continued to ride on the Flat and indeed won the Group 1 Joe McGrath Memorial Stakes aboard Fordham later in his career, but it was as a National Hunt jockey that he made his name.

When Moore’s stable jockey, Willie Robinson, moved to England, Moore appointed Carberry to the position at the age of just 20.

Carberry married Moore’s daughter Pamela, and they would have six children in all, four of whom – Paul, Nina, Philip and Peter Jon – all became successful jockeys in their own right, with Paul recognised as the most stylish rider of his generation while Nina is generally reckoned to be the best Irish woman jockey of all time.

The big winners soon came for Carberry. He rode his first Cheltenham Festival aboard Tripacer in the Gloucestershire Hurdle of 1962, and in total he had 16 Cheltenham Festival wins in his career as a jockey.

Carberry dearly loved Cheltenham and the annual Irish invasion of the town. It is in no way derogatory to say that he loved a party and he was one of that generation in the saddle who rode hard and played hard, all done with a twinkle in the eye and humour that would appreciate one fellow Irishman’s description of him – “a broth of a boy”.

He also loved the big stage, the biggest races, and when partnered with an equine fellow winner, Carberry rarely let down his backers.

He even beat Arkle, which to an Irishman was almost blasphemy. The horse the Irish call simply ‘Himself’ finished third to Carberry and Flying Wild in the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup of 1964. Mind you, Arkle was carrying 12st 10lbs, some 2st 4lbs less than Carberry’s mount, and only lost by a length.

That win brought Carberry to the attention of British race fans who had seen him win the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1963. It was when he teamed up with L’Escargot, however, that Carberry’s fame was sealed.

Owned by the popular US Ambassador to Ireland, Ray Guest, the far from snail-like L’Escargot with Carberry in the saddle won the Meadow Brook Chase in the USA in 1969 – the big chestnut gelding was named America’s horse of the year – to set up a wonderful season the following year.

L’Escargot gave Carberry his first Cheltenham Gold Cup and added the Wills Premier Chase final to boot, before the horse returned to win the Gold Cup in 1971.

Owner Guest had always wanted to own a Grand National winner to add to his double Epsom Derby success with Larkspur in 1962 and the legendary Sir Ivor in 1968, and unlike many owners of Gold Cup winners, he actively wanted Dan Moore to train L’Escargot for the Aintree marathon. The horse fell in his first outing over the big obstacles in 1972, but then came third, second and finally first over the next three years.

Other big race winners ridden by Carberry included Inkslinger, double winner at Cheltenham in 1973; Brown Lad, winner of two Irish Grand Nationals; Ten Up, who won the 1975 Gold Cup; and Tied Cottage, winner of the 1976 Sun Alliance Chase who ‘won’ the 1980 Gold Cup only to be controversially disqualified for a drugs test failure due to contaminated feed.

Carberry’s final Cheltenham Festival triumph came in 1982 when he rode The Brockshee, trained by his brother-in-law Arthur Moore, to win the Arkle Trophy. By the end of his riding career he had been Irish champion jockey four times and ridden more than 1,000 winners.

He moved seamlessly into training, and though he never had the size of stable to mount a serious challenge in the trainers’ championship, Carberry sent out winners consistently and in Bobbyjo he trained an Irish Grand National and Aintree Grand National winner.

Always a popular figure in racing due to his larger-than-life personality, Carberry was never happier than watching any of his children succeed in the saddle, and there was no bigger day for the family than when he and Paul brought Bobbyjo back to Ratoath as Grand National victor.

Carberry had been ill for some time and was in a nursing home in Ashbourne, Co Meath, when he died on 12 July. His funeral has already taken place.

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

MARTIN HANNAN