Tommy Carbery: A life in racing for jockey who beat Red Rum

Tommy Carberry and L'Escargot clear Becher's Brook in the 1975 Grand National: Photo by Colorsport/REX (3157308a).
Tommy Carberry and L'Escargot clear Becher's Brook in the 1975 Grand National: Photo by Colorsport/REX (3157308a).
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TOMMY Carberry, who has died aged 75, was not just the jockey who beat home hero Red Rum in the Grand National, he was one of the all-time greats of jump racing.

The head of one of Ireland’s leading racing dynasties, Carberry achieved the remarkable feat of winning the Grand National both as a rider and a trainer.

He guided L’Escargot to victory over the hat-trick seeking Red Rum in 1975 and saddled Bobbyjo to land the world’s greatest steeplechase in 1999, ridden by his son Paul who swung from the rafters of Aintree’s old weighing room after this family triumph.

“He’d been ill for a while and fought it for a long time,” said Carberry junior who was a revered rider in his own right before his career was curtailed by injury.

“He gave me a Grand National winner and has been great for Irish racing. He got the best out of everything he produced.”

Born in County Meath, Tommy Carberry soon made his mark as a jockey and was a multiple champion National Hunt rider in Ireland in the 1970s.

He enjoyed great success on L’Escargot, not only winning the National, but the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1970 and 1971.

Carberry also won the blue riband of jump racing on Ten Up, but was denied a fourth success when Tied Cottage, who was first past the post in 1980 was later disqualified when tiny traces of a banned substance were found in the horse’s blood.

He also won the Irish Grand National on Brown Lad in 1975 and 1976.

He retired from the saddle in 1982 to take up training and sent out Bobbyjo to win the Irish National in 1998, the year before he went on to glory at Aintree.

Carberry recounted the Aintree win of L’Escargot, the horse named after a snail, in an exlcusive interview with The Yorkshire Post in April 2015 to mark the 40th anniversary of the win.

Horse and jockey were imperious at Becher’s Brook before calamity nearly struck at the next fence – the smallest on the course. “He hit it straight on – and my backside went up in the air – but somehow we survived. It was the only mistake,” said Carberry. “It woke him up.”

There were no more alarms until the third last when L’Escargot was upsides Red Rum and travelling the better of the two horses. “Brian Fletcher on Red Rum shouted at me ‘Go on Tommy, you’ve won a minute’.” The canny Carberry was having none of it. He did not want to give ‘Rummy’ a target to chase, even though the favourite was “carrying a fair lump of bread”.

He waited until the last fence – the pair landed in unison – before striding clear to avenge their defeat of 1974. “He won by 15 lengths. He hacked up. How many horses do that?” asked Carberry. “It was amazing the difference not running in the Gold Cup made. That won us the race.”

Four of Carberry’s children – Paul, Philip, Peter and Nina – have carved successful careers in racing.

Noel Meade is intrinsically linked to the Carberry family, with Paul filling the role as stable jockey during his career, while Nina has ridden as an amateur for the yard as well as operating as a racing assistant for Meade.

However, the handler’s connection to Tommy Carberry goes back further than that and Meade hailed him as a “genius in the saddle”.

Meade said: “He was a legend, and a hero of mine from when I was a kid.

“He rode the first winner I had in Galway on Larks Venture. I think it was just the second winner I’d had at the time after Tu Va, and he rode a good few for me.

“I always enjoyed meeting him, and going for a drink with him in Ratoath.

“He was a genius in the saddle, and Paul was very like him. He was nearly a carbon copy of him.

“Tommy could ride a horse to win from the front one day, and hold him and win the next day. He was a fabulous tactician and judge of pace, and just had that natural talent that is so hard to come by - it is bred in him.

“It was fantastic to see him train Bobbyjo to win the National. He didn’t have many bullets to fire as a trainer, and to win one of the greatest races of all was fantastic.

“To have Paul riding him made it all the more special and it was just a magical day.

“When they came back to Ratoath, (t was a magic day as they celebrated long and hard. I have great memories of him and it’s so sad to hear he’s gone.

“We have been expecting it for quite a while and at least he’s at peace now. He was a great one and we’ll miss him.”