At the age of 42, Paul Carberry has been forced to quit the saddle, bringing to an end an outstanding career.
One of the most gifted of horsemen, Carberry had not ridden competitively since last September, when fracturing his left femur in a nasty fall at Listowel. On Tuesday he met with orthopaedic surgeon Dr Paddy Kenny in Blanchardstown, and was advised against a return to action.
“It didn't go great,” said Carberry after the meeting. “Dr Kenny said that the leg is still too weak and that I'd be better off not coming back - he couldn't pass me fit to ride. I suppose I knew the last month that the leg wasn't getting stronger, but it is still a blow. I was half hoping that I might get back. It's a day that had to come at some stage, but it's difficult to take. I am gutted.”
From one of Ireland’s most famous racing dynasties, Paul is the son of former jockey Tommy Carberry, and he is the nephew of trainer Arthur Moore. Siblings Philip and Nina are also talented jockeys, with his sister arguably the finest female rider of all-time.
He started out as an apprentice with Jim Bolger, winning his first race in 1990. He found success at the Cheltenham Festival in 1993 when aboard Rhythm Section in the Champion Bumper. Carberry was a 14-time winner at The Festival, and became Irish Champion Jockey twice.
One of many highlights during a sparkling career has to be the 1999 Grand National success aboard his father Tommy's Bobbyjo. Reflecting on his most memorable rides he said: “The National is the highlight. It was a dream come true. To win the National was always my dream, but then to win it for my father was unreal altogether. He had been the last to ride an Irish winner of it before me (on L'Escargot in 1975), so it was a big family day.”
Trainer Noel Meade was very much Carberry’s partner in crime over the years, with the association going back to the early 1990’s. Sausalito Bay brought the pairing their first Cheltenham Festival success in 2000, when he took the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, defeating none-other than Best Mate in the process.
Carberry spoke of his relationship with the Co Meath handler, saying: “I had a great time and rode a lot of good winners in big races, especially for Noel. Harchibald was the best horse I rode for him and winning the title a couple of times was special as well. Noel was easy enough to work for and a great friend.”
Meade responded to the news by saying: “He was a unique talent, there is no doubt about that. Paul sometimes would ride one of those waiting races and get there to win and people would be in awe of him, but he wouldn't see anything that special about it. It was second nature to him. He was one in a million. Not only was he a very good jockey, but he was a very good friend. I'll miss him for sure.”
That exaggerated waiting style was Carberry’s calling card. His judgement of pace was probably only matched in recent times by Ruby Walsh. His rides on Harchibald tested that riding style to the limit. The enigmatic gelding was a class act, but barely did a stroke off the bridle.
The victory in the 2004 Christmas Hurdle was thanks to a riding masterclass from Carberry. Dickie Johnson had Rooster Booster miles clear turning for home, whilst Carberry niggled away at Harchibald, refusing to panic. At the last there was still five lengths between the pair, but the Irish star swept past with time to spare, winning without once feeling the rider’s whip. The pair went on to win five Grade 1’s, yet the defeat to Hardy Eustace in the Champion Hurdle of 2005 proved to be arguably his most memorable race.
Ridden as he had to be, Harchibald cruised alongside Hardy Eustace after the last flight at Cheltenham, with Carberry statuesque on top. But, when asked for maximum effort, the horse failed to find another gear, and came off second best. The jockey was blamed by many, yet those who truly understand the sport knew that if Carberry couldn’t win on him, no-one could.
It was the jockey’s outstanding rides that very much became the norm. Cool on Nicanor, as he came late to defeat the mighty Denman in the Royal & SunAlliance at Cheltenham in 2006. He was brave on Go Native, when sneaking through on the inner to steal the Supreme Novices’ in 2009.
He partnered a mighty chaser in Pandorama, and had him in the perfect spot throughout, hitting the front at the last fence to win the Grade 1 Lexus Chase in 2010.
Major wins were not confined to Noel Meade, as a jockey of the stature of Carberry is always in demand. He got the leg-up on Monbeg Dude for the Welsh National in 2013 for trainer Michael Scudamore, and gave the horse an astounding ride. Coaxed along throughout the marathon contest, the gelding went through more fences than he jumped, but was allowed to work his way into contention. Picking them off one-by-one, Carberry was ‘taking a pull’ two fences from home, before hitting the front after the last. It was an incredible performance from man and beast.
Carberry was no less impressive on Solwhit in the World Hurdle for trainer Charles Byrnes two months later, and back with Meade partnered Very Wood to a stunning success 12 months later in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, when virtually no-one gave the horse a prayer.
It was that knack of getting the best from a horse, that sets Carberry aside from most other jockeys. The rider was at one with a horse, cajoling, kidding them along, until somehow they found themselves in front when it mattered most.
Noel Meade probably put it best when saying: “We've had a great innings together and Paul has had a great innings. I often thought that he could teach a horse to do more in one schooling session than someone else would in five. I remember when he got beat in the Christmas Hurdle on Harchibald and I said to him, “why didn't you hit him?” And he said to me, “why would I do that? He was doing his best.” He loved the horse, so there was nearly a tear in his eye.”
The sport will certainly miss Paul Carberry, with that familiar derriere weaving its way through the pack. He was a pure natural talent, a master of his trade.