Grand National: Story time for son of Carberry

Stan Hey talks to the jockey trying to emulate his father and make National history
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The Independent Online
There is always a story in the Grand National. Equine athleticism and jump-jockeys' bravery combine with an Aintree course that is still the ultimate challenge to both, to create an unscripted drama which has always seemed utterly incapable of dullness.

A random spin through the post-war Nationals calls up such iconic events as Red Rum's triple triumph, the cancer survivor Bob Champion's win on the lately departed Aldaniti, Foinavon's great escape to victory, Devon Loch's mysterious sprawl on the run to the post, and the master trainer Vincent O'Brien's hat-trick of wins in the early 1950s.

But as you study this fascinating tapestry there is one story which has yet to be written - the victory by a son of a previous winning rider. National Hunt's community has always been a relatively small one with families intertwining over the generations in ownership, training and horsemanship, a human parallel to the equine breeding which provides the life force of the race.

And yet the transmission of success from father to son has proved elusive. The former champion jockey Peter Scudamore never achieved better than third place in his attempt to emulate his father Michael's 1959 victory on Oxo, while Richard Pitman and his son Mark suffered identical fates when their respective mounts, Crisp in 1973 and Garrison Savannah in 1991, were agonisingly overtaken on the run-in to the winning post.

But next Saturday's 150th race allows the possibility of a new attempt on Grand National history.Twenty-two years ago the Irish jockey Tommy Carberry rode that fabulous chaser L'Escargot to victory over Red Rum, completing a remarkable achievement for a horse which had already won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice in 1970 and 1971.

But while horse and jockey were rightly being etched on to jump racing's roll of honour, a smaller footnote had already been added in the shape of Tommy's son Paul, born a year earlier. There was little doubt Paul would follow in his father's hoof prints, given that horses were as much a part of the family as aunts and uncles.

"My dad stuck me on a pony when I was about three and I can still remember the enjoyment it gave me," Paul, now 23, says, reflecting on what seems like the "rosebud" moment in his life. And as his father Tommy switched from riding to training Paul's involvement grew deeper.

"I had him riding work for me from the age of nine," Tommy recalls, "and from there he rode my horses in point-to-point, before riding a couple of winners on the Flat for Jim Bolger. Paul was always a natural, always just loved riding horses, although he wasn't too keen on schooling them."

But Paul's progress was threatened by another paternal decision which nearly backfired. "When he was still a 16-year-old amateur I put him up on one of mine for the Foxhunters' Chase at Aintree and Paul had a right fall off him. I thought it might put him off for life but it didn't."

On the contrary, Paul's determination to carve his own niche in racing grew apace as his riding ability quickly began to live up to the family name. Some eye-catching successes in Ireland led to him being coaxed to England two years ago by the Yorkshire-based millionaire Robert Ogden, who boasts one of the most powerful strings in jump racing.

"I didn't know anything about it at the time," Paul says with genuine modesty. "Apparently Mr Ogden saw me ride a few winners one day when he was over in Ireland, heard that I was looking to ride in England and offered me the job as his retained jockey. So far, it's working out very well."

Apart, that is, from the two injuries which have disrupted the younger Carberry's season so far. A broken arm in September kept him on the sidelines until just before Christmas, and most cruelly a fall from one of his father's horses, Native Status, at Naas on the Sunday before Cheltenham caused the knee injury which kept him out of the Festival.

"I knew inside when I went to see the racecourse doctor on the Tuesday morning that I only had a distant chance of making it," Paul says mournfully.

But in between the injuries Carberry had demonstrated his fast-emerging talent by hitting a rich seam of form. Three trebles were included in a sequence of 24 wins in just 29 racing days as he surged up the jockey's table. Had Carberry not been out of the media spotlight because of riding the Northern tracks, this shy, still boyish-faced jockey would certainly have enjoyed a higher profile.

But rest and physiotherapy should have him fit to face Aintree's very public challenge. He has already ridden in two Nationals, falling at the 27th in 1994, but getting the 100-1 outsider Three Brownies up into sixth place last year. Carberry also won the John Hughes Memorial Chase around one circuit of the National course.

"It was all a great thrill and valuable experience. You have to try and keep out of the way of fallers, and it's often easier to do that up the rails than by going out wide," he says, hinting at his strategy for next Saturday.

His intended mount is the 25-1 chance Buckboard Bounce whose preparation has been held up by the unseasonal firm ground, necessitating a run over hurdles at Carlisle yesterday. Should the horse be found wanting and be withdrawn from the National, it is likely that Carberry will be offered the ride on JP McManus's heavily backed runner Wylde Hide, on whom he won at Leopardstown on 2 March.

Whichever horse Paul rides will have history galloping alongside him. With the fatalism which jump-jockeys learn from Day One, neither Tommy nor Paul will ever admit to thinking about the possibility of the ultimate family double. "He won't need my advice," Tommy says. "Paul has his own style. As long as you've got a good ride, you've got a chance."

Tommy Carberry's memories of L'Escargot's triumph are still fresh. "About a mile from home Brian Fletcher on Red Rum shouted across to me 'you're gonna win it!' " Should Paul Carberry be so lucky next Saturday the 150th Grand National will have the story it deserves.