Paul Carberry: One Hell of a Life

The sport of racing didn't have any entries on this year's shortlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, but it's a very different story for the Irish equivalent award. Alongside two books about Gaelic games, one on cycling and one on rugby union, are two jockey autobiographies; those of Tony McCoy (see review 16 Nov) and Paul Carberry.

Carberry is often referred to as the most naturally gifted horseman ever to come out of Ireland, and of course even within his own family there is plenty of competition. His brother and sister, Philip and Nina, are both jockeys, father Tommy was a leading national hunt jockey in the 1960s and 70s, and uncle Arthur Moore has been one of Ireland's top trainers for the past 30 years.

The title of his book, "One Hell of a Ride", gives you the clue that everything has not been straightforward in Carberry's life, and while he is brutally honest about the personal demons he's had to wrestle with, there's relatively little about the people who have stood beside him and supported him through his difficulties. It's here that the book misses a trick, because there are only so many stories you can tell about a life full of booze and parties.

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Nonetheless, Carberry and his co-writer Des Gibson set out to tackle head on those issues and the impact they have had on his riding. In terms of his racing, there's half a chapter on the enigmatic and wayward Harchibald, whom he rode to second place in the 2005 Champion Hurdle. Carberry was castigated by many punters for that ride, as they felt that he should have let Harchibald off the bridle much sooner on the run in. Carberry's view was that he could have done no more on the notoriously weak finisher. "When we jumped the last it looked like we going to win but Hardy Eustace kept going. I would say the operation went well but the patient died."

The following day Carberry suffered a terrible fall on Jaamid, which left him out of the Festival and in a Cheltenham hospital for a week with a punctured lung and the lacerated liver. Earlier, soon after his Grand National winning ride on Bobbyjo in 1999 (a full chapter devoted to this), Carberry was just 15 minutes away from death when he was kicked in a training accident and as a result lost his spleen.

~In his book Carberry also sets out for the first time the circumstances which led him to be sentenced to a spell in prison, reduced to commmunity service on appeal, for setting fire to a newspaper on board a flight between Malaga and Dublin in 2005.

Carberry has given up drinking now, after a failed breath test before racing one day last year led to another suspension and a reappraisal of the direction his life was taking. You get the sense that sitting down with Gibson and committing all this to paper has been quite cathartic for him, and that he, unlike other brilliant sportsmen such as Alex Higgins in snooker, George Best and Paul Gascoigne football, will in the end not be doomed by his demons. Let's hope so.

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