Whilst enjoying what has becoming a regrettably rare visit to a favourite hostelry, my company on the occasion mentioned that he’d recently been in the army base on The Curragh. Mention of the hallowed place eternally evokes memories of the late Lt. Gen Dermot Earley. A gentle giant of a man – in every sense – I was proud and honoured to have met on several occasions before his untimely passing.
Dermot was regarded by many well placed judges as one of the greatest players never to have won an All Ireland medal. Transfer talk to horse racing and many observers would agree that Harchibald was one of the best horses never to win the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle. He was also, however, one of the biggest enigmas ever to set hoof on a track.
There was something strangely apt about that too though. For in ways it tallied seamlessly with the man who was synonymous with the quirky Perugino gelding! How does one begin to evaluate Paul Carberry? Well, yours truly scarcely feels qualified to even attempt it, but, it was befriending Noel Meade – and consequently Paul’s (and Nina’s) association with the master of Tu Va that promulgated a passion for racing that has been life changing.
Even though the Carberry name had impacted on me before the fateful rendezvous with Noel had even happened. Bobbyjo was the first horse I ever placed a bit on – with the assistance of the late Bert Gill. That he won was one thing, that it was for his father quite another, having £10 on the winner was a nice filler to the cake but it was Paul’s, shall we say, unique, celebration which was the icing which left the enduring taste!
It also, mind you, encapsulated a stellar career which was an unforgettable journey – and that was just for us fans! Anyone who has been around racing for long enough will have a Carberry story, some better known than others. Without wanting to re-hash the entire circumstances, he was once asked his opinion on a winner he’d just partnered – “He’s like a jet!” came the response, let’s just say it was an interesting way of putting things at the time!
Behind the cheeky grin, the fun and the bit of risqué lay an undeniable – maybe indefinable – talent. Now this might sound overly simplistic, but, perhaps it was his ability to read a situation that stood out most. All the top ones had or have it – Ruby, AP, Barry Geraghty, Davy Russell or Richard Johnson over jumps, or Johnny Murtagh, Pat Smullen, Kevin Manning, Frankie or Ryan Moore on the level.
Yet nobody did ‘cool’ like Carberry. In whatever way one wanted to use the term. Consider that to the majority of the racing fraternity he was affectionately known as ‘Alice’ reputedly owing to the Ratoath rider’s chosen party piece, a colourful number in itself, it could be said.
However, it’ll most likely be the memory of his coolness in discharging of his mercurial talent that will be the everlasting memory. Look no further than Harchibald. If ever horse and rider were a perfect fit for each other, it was those two. Essentially, there was only one way to ride ‘Harchi’ – wait and wait and wait…and then wait some more. And on numerous occasions, he with ice in his veins got the fractions just spot on.
As is often the case though, what’s probably best remembered is the one occasion the calculations went awry – in the race referred to earlier. Countless hours of studying video footage, verbal debates and column inches have been dedicated to deciphering how exactly ‘Harchi’ didn’t win that Champion Hurdle.
To my mind, ‘Alice’ couldn’t have done any more. They were just unfortunate to encounter a steed of the redoubtable resilience of Hardy Eustace. In fact, I’d concur with the local man’s summation, in his autobiography: “If I made a mistake, it was that I went too early!”
Still, it wasn’t all about Harchibald. Even though only the last decade or so of his career that was witnessed, some memories of Paul’s performances will eternally endure. Go Native’s unlikely triumph in the Supreme Novices, Bobbyjo, obviously, as well as his lifting of Bellvano and Crack Away Jack to Cheltenham wins.
He oozed class, and often made those he was steering do likewise. There’s so much – and yet not much – you can say about him. Two things are certain, it was never boring with him about, and it surely won’t be the same without him!