Racing: Carberry can take pride in a new image

Next week's Cheltenham Festival brings a young jockey a platform on which to display his fresh-found maturity.
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The Independent Online
WHEN YOU mention the word Carberry the cheers go up all around and it is difficult to tell whether the loudest noise comes from the punters or the barmen.

This is a surname synonymous with excess, a father and son kissed by outrageous talent for riding horses and a similar gift for enjoying their victories. In an increasingly antiseptic sporting world, their deeds day and night are revered by anyone who has ever gripped a tankard.

Tommy started it. Ireland's multiple-champion National Hunt jockey uniquely, in 1975, rode the winners of the Gold Cup, Grand National and Irish Grand National in the same year (Ten Up, L'Escargot and Brown Lad). Among his raft of Cheltenham Festival winners were the Gold Cup triumphs in 1970 and 1971 of L'Escargot, the last horse to win the Blue Riband of steeplechasing more than once.

Next week, in Gloucestershire, Tommy's son Paul has the chance to join his father in the great race's roll of honour when he rides Dorans Pride. Third in the Gold Cup for the last two seasons and with a better chance on this year's softer ground, Dorans Pride gave Paul Carberry the chance to demonstrate his considerable skill when the rider virtually picked the horse from the floor for victory after a terrible mistake at Leopardstown over Christmas.

It was a legendary piece of horsemanship and the sort of exploit with which his father would be familiar. At the Queen's Hotel in Cheltenham, when that establishment dazzled as brightly as anything on the Las Vegas strip, Tommy was the star turn. In his homeland's vernacular he used to "play the maggot". The later he stayed up, the story went, the better he rode.

Genealogists may point out that Tommy's boy Paul is not an early mug of cocoa under the duvet man himself. The lad may be only just 25 yet the Carberry jnr stories already form a considerable mound: the time he rode into a pub on his horse, how he scrambled on to the roof of a speeding car and in through the opposite window, his attempts to ride a stag.

A personal memory comes from Pardubice. One night last October diners had gathered at the Hotel Labe, which provides what passes for cordon bleu in that part of the Czech Republic. Couples may have been deflected from their meals and delicate conversation when Carberry, on piggyback, came bursting in and started riding a finish between the tables. Ferdy Murphy, the trainer, put an end to the high jinks by knocking out the jockey with alcohol and locking him in his room. This, in part, is Paul Carberry.

For all his mischief there is probably nobody Carberry hurts more than himself. On the rare occasions he does err on the racecourse the easy accusation from the stands is that his private life is letting him down. The chiding, however, is never too prolonged as the Irish recognise that in this lean young man they have been delivered an extravagant talent even by the standards of their equine land. They compare him to that rider of the 1950s Martin Moloney, which is the Everest of compliments.

There is also something of another man about Carberry. Like Lester Piggott, his eloquence is in the saddle, not out of it. Like the Long Fellow, he occupies the saddle with his backside in the stars. The Irishman rides on a long rein with his weight well forward, off the bonnet of the horse's engine area. He does not interfere greatly with a horse's mouth. They repay him by running very quickly.

The first winner came at 16, when Joseph Knibb carried him home in the virtual swamp of a Bray hunt point-to-point at Glencairn. Competing between the flags and riding across raw terrain with hounds was bliss for the young man.

Carberry hunts with the sort of abandon Captain Scarlet might. If he had been in charge of the wooden horse there would have been no need for the Trojans to open the gates. "Out in the hunting field he is unmatched," Ireland's champion jumps trainer, Noel Meade, says. Carberry's principal employer. "You'll never see anyone across country like him. Above all, he has no fear.

"To stand and watch him schooling horses is a delight. It's poetry in motion because he's got that gift of being able to squeeze them up there. It's not a forceful thing. He just uses his knees, his ankles and his elbows and gets horses to do what he wants them to do. It's something he's had from a very early age.

"We had this rough horse in once and he was after burying everyone in the indoor barn. Paul was the last to get up on him and the horse bucked, turned, tried to lay down and backed up against the wall. But in five minutes Paul had the horse eating out of his hand and he could have been smoking a cigar up there."

Carberry has completed a loop by returning to Meade after three seasons based in England. In a different life, he was champion apprentice on the Flat when attached to Meade's Co Meath stable. "I just thought he was different class from the first time he came to me. His actual riding ability, his horsemanship, is unmatched by anybody," the trainer says.

"Charlie Swan was the outstanding rider here for many years but I'm sure that he would be the first to admit that he doesn't have the natural talent, the riding ability, of a Paul Carberry. You look at other guys like Tony McCoy, who is an extraordinary jockey, so dedicated to his job, but Paul is in no way behind him.

"He has a talent like a footballer or an opera singer might have, he is just born and bred to do this job he is doing. The moment he is up on a horse he is so alive and so part of the scenery around him."

Noel Meade does not worry about Carberry and fences. He worries more that the jockey will be brought down by a reputation. Furthermore, he no longer recognises this man described so colourfully by taproom legend. "If you get a name for getting up early in the morning then you can stay in bed all day, and there's no doubt that Paul was wild when he was younger," the trainer says. "In his teenage years he earned the reputation well and he's no saint now, but he's not the madman that everybody seems to think he is. It might be time to put that reputation to bed [even if Carberry may not be in it].

"He needed to go away from Ireland and to go away from some of the people. It was too easy for him to be celebrating here. Ireland's a very small country and he's a very likeable fellow. People like him to be with them. He didn't mind being a bit of a show-off.

"But now he's settled down so much. He went away to England a boy and came back a man. But it's hard to shake off that image now and it's always thrown at him."

Paul Carberry returned to the racecourse at Tramore on Thursday after three weeks' recuperation from broken ribs. A longer injury and absence from Cheltenham would have been cruel as he has missed the meeting twice in recent years with ailment.

As it is, the man said by Richard Dunwoody to be the most gifted jockey of them all, will be riding a sheaf of Irish contestants, notably Cardinal Hill in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Cockney Lad in the Arkle Trophy and Hill Society in the Champion Chase, as well as Dorans Pride.

The good judges, those who know unusual talent, appreciate him. So do his colleagues. "Paul is not half as stupid as he likes to make out," Norman Williamson says. "At the start, he'll ask what the fences are like, how the ground is riding and even which way round we're going. Then the tapes go up and you never see him again. He's just a brilliant jockey.

"People say he's in danger of being remembered for the things he does out of the saddle rather than in it, but I can assure you that won't be true. He's too bloody good for that."