Racing: Carberry has Grand reason to party

AS HE CAME in after winning the Grand National on Bobbyjo it was rather odd to see Paul Carberry swinging from a bar in the weighing-room roof. Usually, he's leaning on them.

When you think Carberry, you don't have to intellectualise. Just limit it to: bloody good rider, bloody good party man. When this Irishman visited Blarney Castle the stone was away having its 25,000-kiss service. You could write down more from an interview with Marcel Marceau than you get from the 25-year-old, but he always says one thing. "Do you know all those terrible stories they tell about me?" he asks. "They're all true." They call him Alice in the weighing room but he could also quite easily be the Mad Hatter.

Paul Carberry stories are legend in racing. A theme to them is drinking. And we are not talking milkshake here. A feature of Saturday's race was how Carberry made great play of the fact that he was in bed by 9pm the previous evening. (He usually isn't, well not the pm bit anyway). The jockey appeared to think he had made some sort of Faustian sacrifice.

Despite their meagre physical proportions jumps jockeys are not the lightest drinkers on the planet. Considerable celebration is a valve for men who regularly put life and limb on the line. And among the cohort Carberry is Group class. He also happens to be among the most popular men in racing.

It would have been easy to accuse Paul Carberry of trading on his father's name. Tommy Carberry, Bobbyjo's trainer and the last man to pilot an Irish winner of the National before Saturday (L'Escargot in 1975), was a consummate rider. He too was only slightly less effective on the bar stool than he was in the saddle.

Carberry jnr could have folded under the scrutiny. Yet people do not say that he is hanging on to family coat-tails. In fact, he loses nothing by comparison.

Not least of the younger man's qualities is his courage. Perhaps the only plausible excuse for hunting is that it enables us to see Carberry on horseback chasing quarry over rough terrain. Out in the country, "Alice" will try to jump anything. If he had heard the farmyard gossip, Carberry would certainly have been the man to partner the cow on its jump over the moon. He makes his horses vault and he makes them as brave as he is.

So it was on Saturday, as Bobbyjo treated the nation's most formidable fences as if they were rows of matchboxes.

The Grand National is a grand challenge for horsemen like Carberry, an opportunity to test skill and nerve against this most fearsome Medusa. As a 16-year-old he rode Joseph Knibb in the Fox Hunters' over the big, shaggy obstacles. The horse buried him at Becher's Brook and undertakers almost had to do the same. But Liverpool continued to hold its fascination for him.

The plan for '99 was to switch off Bobbyjo and get him relaxed. Carberry could not have done it better had he brought the horse a mug of cocoa and read him a story. The Irish horse skipped round the inside, distinguishable largely by his pilot's posture (bottom buffing the sky).

There was no mistake, which was just as well as Aintree does not allow for many of those. The Grand National meeting always delights and shocks. Horses have perished this week, just as they will always do at the highest level of competition when every sinew and bone is subjected to the severest pressure.

The National itself claimed yet another for its grim historical log when Eudipe went at Becher's on the second circuit. He was driven into the fence by Tony McCoy just at a time when his enthusiasm for the fray seemed to be ebbing. The gelding fell in a nauseating death thrash, his neck broken - some reward for a season of consistency at the top level.

Bobbyjo was still snoozing along at that stage and was still only sixth two obstacles out. Then he got his wake-up call and the race was over. Carberry pointed his vehicle down the outside and the acceleration was so instant that there was time for a prolonged victory salute. He stood up in the stirrups, knees locked, tall enough for a helicopter to have come down and whisked him away.

The Bobbys and Jos who had backed him up and down the nation may have been slightly unnerved by this gesture, but there was no chance of Carberry falling off. His balance is unmatched. He could sleep on a washing line.

In the winners' enclosure there was jubilation. There are no better winners in the racing world than the Irish, people who might go delirious in victory but somehow manage to carry you with them rather than feeling green-eyed on the outside. In the adjacent berth to Bobbyjo, Blue Charm's stablelass was sobbing through a combination of pride and relief. It's like that with the Grand National.

When they got Paul Carberry down from the weighing-room beam, plans for the preliminary stages of the party (up to the millennium) had probably already been established.

Among this maelstrom was Bobby Burke, the winning owner who bought Bobbyjo in a transaction in a Galway hostelry. Burke is in the pub business himself (he owns 22 watering holes in the London area), which by no means distances himself instinctively from the Carberrys. Their party (which is just warming up) will be a memorable one. Those that emerge from it will be asking what won the Grand National.