Racing Grand National: A joyride for cool Carberry

Winning rider is as well known for recklessness on the road as style in the saddle
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The Independent Online
AN IRISHMAN who has forsaken gambling, a horse who wins handicap hurdles one minute and four-and-a-half-mile chases the next and an ante- post favourite who fell before the traditional cheers for the start had been carried away by the stiff breeze. A streaker, braver than most, had even enlivened the pre-race parade. As befits an Irish-dominated year, Aintree threw up shocks and fairytales in roughly equal measure.

It has been 24 years since the people's prize headed off across the Irish Sea. Cheltenham has been Ireland's playground over the century; the National has proved a more elusive challenge. But no one in Co. Meath, home of the Carberrys, will be worrying too much about the gap in the history books.

Talk about keeping it in the family. When Tommy Carberry won the race in 1975, his son Paul was just 14 months old. But, yesterday, Bobbyjo followed in the illustrious footsteps of the classy L'Escargot. And if he felt a little extra weight on those last strength-sapping yards from the last, there was no break in that relentless stride.

Long before the finishing post, Carberry had sneaked a quick look over his shoulder at the tiring Blue Charm and knew the race was his. His swing from the rafters as he entered the winners' enclosure was not the sort of flamboyant manoeuvre his father would have encouraged. Des Lynam had the infinitely harder task of trying to extract the odd pearl of wisdom out of the notoriously tactiturn Tommy. Pulling teeth would have been easier. "Is he always this quiet?" he asked.

Tommy Carberry was always happier when his horses did the talking and Paul has inherited the linguistic suspicions as well as the talent in the saddle.

Brought up around horses on the Carberry farm, Paul had little chance to escape from the clutches of the turf. He was riding as early as he could walk and, barely into his teens, the news floated across the water that another Carberry was on the loose. When he arrived, even shrewd judges of jockeyship marvelled at the young Carberry's impression of Lester Piggott.

The technique, stirrups impossibly short, was developed on long afternoons riding ponies round the paddock, but never quite gained the full approval of Tommy, who was an old-fashioned horseman. But the balance was near faultless and his horses seemed to flow Piggott-like happily beneath him.

Punters came to thrill to the sight of the fresh-faced young Irishman, bottom pointing skywards, cruising into the final fence on the way to nonchalant victory.

The boy certainly had style and nerve to spare.

In a day full of outrageous claims, the most unbelievable was the rumour, subsequently confirmed by the man himself, that Carberry had gone to bed at 9pm in honour of Bobbyjo's chances on the morn. "That's a first", said a journalist, echoing the sentiments of the weighing-room, which has echoed to the tales of Carberry's latest antics since his arrival in the North of England three years ago.

His party piece, rumour has it, is to climb out of a car window, over the roof and back in the other window, an athletic achievement at the best of times, a feat of sheer lunacy when the car is on the move. But then Carberry's idea of a laugh is to hang out of the back door of a moving car and press his forehead to within inches of the tarmac.

It is not just the tradition of brilliant horsemanship that Paul Carberry perpetuates. His colleagues were preparing for a raucous night; the Liverpool constabulary were put on red alert.

Yesterday's trot round the most challenging two circuits in racing must have seemed like a gentle joyride to Carberry.

A typical Irish family day out was accompanied by a typically Irish betting coup. The exception was the owner himself, Bobby Burke - his wife Jo is the other half - who gave up gambling 10 years ago. A non-gambling Irishman. Not many left Aintree last night. A tumble of Irish punts cut Bobbyjo's odds from 22-1 to 10-1 at the off.

English ears would have none of those loud Irish whispers. The money poured on to Nahthen Lad, Mrs Pitman's 39th and final National runner, in a sentimental torrent. Any more tears from the self-styled Queen of Aintree and the going would have turned from good to soft.

Mrs P did mark her farewell in triumph, her King Of The Castle striding away with the last race. But Des and the microphone had gone silent by then.

In contrast, the long-time favourite Double Thriller slipped steadily in the betting, but looked a picture of exuberance in the parade ring and lolloped purposefully down to the start. His first-fence fall was roundly and unkindly cheered by those in the stand who had not backed him and with him went the one possibility of the sort of Crisp-like exhibition of bold jumping which might silence critics of the newly anaesthetised National.

So, we were left with an Irish victory fashioned in the hills of Co. Meath and flavoured with Guinness. The deal which brought the winner into the ownership of Bobby Burke and his wife, Jo, eight years ago was completed in a pub; the owner has a stable of pubs in North London.

There is a timeless feel to such a pedigree. And it is fair odds that each and every one of those pubs will have been regaled with the full tale of derring-do once the weary tap-room regulars had swayed their triumphant way back from the North last night. Non-gambling maybe, but teetotal? Not yet.