The sport of National Hunt conjures up many spectacular images, with jockeys risking life and limb in pursuit of prizes, big or small. Whether it’s a low-key meeting at Thurles on a dreary Thursday in December, or the high-profile contests at Cheltenham, Aintree or Punchestown in spring, the fearlessness of the competitors is there for all to see.
Paul Carberry is regarded as one of the finest jockeys ever to have graced the jumping game. His talent did not come off the ditches. His father Tommy was champion jockey, winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, England & Irish Nationals in the space of a few weeks in 1975. His grandfather Dan Moore was a trainer of some distinction, while his Uncle, Arthur Moore, had a successful riding career and remains a leading trainer to this day.
In conjunction with author Des Gibson, Paul Carberry’s autobiography is an honest and frank account of life both on and off the track. To date, the Meath jockey has clocked up 1600 winners on the track and has been champion jockey twice. His dream as a youngster was to win the Aintree Grand National. He obviously wanted to emulate what his father achieved aboard L’Escargot, who was trained by his late grandfather.
In 1999, Tommy Carberry felt that he had a horse that could master the big obstacles in Liverpool. His name was Bobbyjo, and after a careful preparation, his son was entrusted with the steering job. The younger Carberry relives the race in great detail, and the thrill he felt when Bobbyjo hit the front in the closing stages, before going on to win impressively.
The win was certainly the high point of Paul Carberry’s career to date. But life has been far from straightforward for the jockey when you add in his battle with alcohol, the failed breath tests, injuries and suspensions and a brush with the law that nearly ended up in a prison sentence.
‘I’m no angel’ is a summation that Carberry has no problem saying about himself. Frequent visits to pubs and nightclubs after racing were common, leaving him, perhaps, not in the best condition for action the following day. The patience of trainer Noel Meade, who Carberry is attached too, was well and truly tested on many occasions. When breath tests were introduced at Irish racecourses, the risks he was taking eventually lead to the stewards taking strong action. At one point there was a danger that one of Ireland’s leading jockeys could lose his licence.
An episode aboard a plane from Spain to Dublin, which saw Carberry set fire to a newspaper had him before the courts in 2005. A two-month stay in prison loomed large, before the sentence was reduced to community service.
In reading this book, there is no denying that Carberry is one of life’s great survivors. His decision to stay off the drink for the rest of his riding career, he feels, will give him a few more years to achieve even greater success. It also offers an interesting insight into the life of a jockey; the sacrifices that have to be made and the regular abuse from punters when they feel you haven’t given ‘their’ horse the proper ride.
For lovers of stats, there is a list of all the winners Carberry has had since he turned professional, while fellow jockeys and trainers are fulsome in their praise for his ability as a rider.
Trainer Noel Meade, perhaps, sums his stable jockey up best: ‘Paul is a special, special rider. A one-off. Whatever a horse has to give, Paul will get it out of him. Any loyalty I have shown him over the years has been paid back in spades.’