Flying high

DESCRIBING Philip Carberry as having been around the block once or twice is hardly wide of the mark, considering he’s now in his ninth season as a professional jockey.

However it’s only really been in the last 12 months that the third of the Co Meath clan to ply their trade in the riding ranks has come into his own.

With older brother Paul having been among the elite riders on the National Hunt scene for many years and younger sister Nina has been a sensational amateur, it is surprising that Philip has not enjoyed as much of the limelight.

Until, that is, he won the 2007 renewal of the Champion Hurdle aboard the John Carr-trained Sublimity.

Punters would presume it was his biggest win, but the jockey himself reckons it was another victory, nearly a year before Sublimity’s success, that put him on the road to big things.

It was only after the 2006 Irish National success on Pat Hughes’ Point Barrow that he took his place on a newly-elevated plateau; it was followed by a string of high-profile victories both here, Britain and in France.

But Carberry is nothing if not a very grounded character and his while level-headedness and talent might have gone unnoticed by the public, they are traits which were already well respected within the racing community.

Hughes himself always rated Carberry as one of the most “under-rated talents of Irish National Hunt racing” and that view was thoroughly vindicated at Fairyhouse in 2006 with a victory that not only boosted his career, but had a special resonance for a family steeped in the traditions of the Irish Grand National. His father and brother (Tommy and Paul) rode National winners and grandfather and uncle (Dan and Arthur Moore) trained winners.

“It was a bit of a surprise when Point Barrow won and won so well,” Carberry recalls modestly, “but what a lot of people don’t realise is that it was only really a return to form for him because he was always a very decent horse.”

After the Point Barrow success there was a somewhat curious turn of events for Philip when he was asked by leading French trainer Francois Cottin to come to France to ride some horses over there for him. Carberry was actually booked to ride Montayral at Sandown for Hughes when the offer from Cottin came in, but the trainer was insistent this was a chance not to be missed.

Cottin had previously trained in Ireland — and married Irish trainer Irene Oakes just before his return to his homeland — and knew of Paul, so that was how the connection had started.

However, neither might have envisaged exactly what was going to happen next. First off, Paul was paired with Princesse D’Anjou in a valuable ‘Chase at Auteil and they duly beat the red-hot favourite Kokijet by a short head to record a famous victory. They then went on to win the Grand Steeplechase de Paris at the same venue in May 2006, taking home a prize of no less than €324,000. Following that up with big wins on Jeu de Brook in the prestigious Prix du President de la Republique and another Grade 1 success on Princesse D’Anjou in the Prix La Haye Jousselin and it was no surprise that the younger Carberry was carving out a nice niche for himself in France.

“I’d ridden for Francois when he trained in Ireland and when he moved to France he didn’t forget me. He asked me to ride one of his at Punchestown and luckily enough it won and the contact remained open. I’d say he took a chance taking on an Irish jockey who’d never really ridden over there before, but it worked out really well and I’m grateful to him for that. But it paid off for him — as well as for me — and we won some good races which was the main thing.”

Philip’s impact in France has been such that he has now been retained as the lead jockey for wealthy owner Jean Paul Senechal and Carberry says having access to such a good string should further increase his profile there.

“It was a great opportunity for me to broaden my career and hopefully I’ll continue to divide my time between racing there and here in Ireland,” he says.

However, if his French venture has been a success, further glory followed closer to home when Carberry rode Sublimity to what was, for some, a shock victory in last year’s Champion Hurdle. The victory was huge but not the shock to Carberry that many might have thought. Victory for the 16/1 shot over the likes of Brave Inca, Hardy Eustace, Detroit City and Straw Bear might have been unexpected as far as the punters’ were concerned, but not the jockey.

“We always knew he was a good horse and we were delighted with the preparation because we had a really fresh horse going to Cheltenham. But the thing was that John Carr and the owners had been very patient and they really did everything right to get him there in as good a shape as he was in.

“People had forgotten that he’d run a fantastic race to finish fourth in the Supreme Novices’ there the previous year behind the likes of Noland and Straw Bear and had been desperately unlucky in running that day. On that basis we knew we’d a good horse, and while there had not been much evidence on the track that he was Champion Hurdle material, we knew from working with him at home that he was the genuine article.

“It was good to prove our intuition had been right all along. There was plenty of satisfaction from that.”

That Sublimity has only run once since then — when finished fourth behind Osana, Katchit and Penzance in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham last December and ahead of subsequent winners Afsoun and Straw Bear — is not of any great concern to the horse’s connections, and Carberry in particular.

“It is pretty much the same build-up as last year and I have to say that the lack of races is no particular concern to me. We had an entry in the AIG Irish Champion Hurdle in January, but didn’t go because of the ground and, to be honest, I’m glad because it was a hell of a tough race and it would have taken a lot out of our horse. Maybe missing it was the best thing that could have happened.

“We were underdogs going into last year’s race — obviously that won’t be the case this time — but we are more prepared than last year and I feel that nothing has been left to chance and no stone has been left unturned in the effort to get him to Cheltenham ready to defend his title.

“In many ways it is more exciting this year because we are the champions, but the whole team has worked really hard towards the goal of getting him there.”

Carberry, who has started commuting between Ireland and France again in the last couple of weeks as the French season gets underway, says he’s not fazed by the fact that Sublimity was beaten by Champion Hurdle rivals Osana and Katchit at Cheltenham before Christmas.

“Katchit is a tough little bugger and Osana has obviously gone from strength to strength since Sizing Europe beat him earlier in the season, but those three will probably form the main opposition.

“And, you cannot forget that if they don’t challenge for some reason, then there is always the likes of Harchibald and maybe Hardy Eustace there to take you on. So it is going to be a very tough race.”

Not only has he got Sublimity to look forward to, Carberry also has his old mucker Point Barrow, who he will once more ride at Aintree in the Grand National — all being well.

Philip, of course, partnered the horse when he was favourite last year, and there were high hopes of another big race win for Pat Hughes’ star. Unfortunately they unravelled at the very first fence when the horse’s enthusiasm got the better of him and he crumpled on landing.

“It was just one of those things that happens,” Carberry recalls, “he just over-jumped the first fence and he went down. The important thing is that he was not hurt and is being primed for another tilt at it.”

In the past year, Carberry has secured his licence to pilot helicopters, a hobby he has been dabbling in for a few years now. He got his private licence last summer and is now, when time allows, metaphorically flying even higher in reality than he has been in his career.

And, if Sublimity comes good for a second time, or Point Barrow wins a Grand National, he might even be able to afford a chopper of his own.

More in this section

Price info

Subscribe to unlock unlimited digital access.
Cancel anytime.

Terms and conditions apply


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox