Carroll Fulfilling His Destiny

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Gary Carroll | Racing Post

By Daithi Harvey

For a young man who was pretty much destined to be a jockey, Gary Carroll didn’t actually begin his career in racing until he was 18, two years older than the majority of apprentices who start out these days. Up until then, Carroll had been honing his jockey skills on the pony racing circuit while more importantly completing his education on the insistence of his parents Raymond and Sally.

As a former Classic-winning rider, it may come as a surprise that Carroll senior wasn’t all that keen about his son becoming a jockey. He knew well of the hard graft involved and the cut-throat competitiveness of the Irish scene, not to mention the potential for injury. These drawbacks never hindered Gary’s dreams and ambitions though and as soon as his leaving cert was completed he signed up with Michael Halford and wasted precious little time in making his mark on the track.

“Both my parents were quite adamant that I stay in school so I did my leaving and did quite well in that, but I had been riding out for Michael Halford in my school holidays for the previous two years so I was always keen to go down the race riding route,” Carroll recalled. “Things happened fairly quickly once I got my licence and I had seven winners in my first year.”

During that first year, Carroll won twice on a horse called Truxton King (Ire) (Clodovil {Ire}), trained by Willie Mullins, and those wins subsequently led to Carroll winning Europe’s richest flat handicap in only his second season riding. Having made such a good impression with the trainer, Mullins entrusted the then 19-year-old Carroll with the mount on Sesenta (Ire) (King’s Theatre {Ire}) in the Ebor H. at York in 2009 and the pair defied odds of 25/1 to win by a head, beating the Johnny Murtagh-ridden, Aidan O’Brien-trained favourite Changingoftheguard (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}).

He said, “That was a great day and my career really took off after that. I ended up as champion apprentice that year with 44 winners.”

Carroll maintained his progress the following season, ending up co-champion apprentice in a three-way tie with Joseph O’Brien and Ben Curtis, the trio finishing up the season with 39 winners each.

While his tally of winners took a bit of dip, Carrroll managed to keep up a lot of the momentum when faced with the prospect of riding on level terms with the likes of Pat Smullen, Johnny Murtagh and Declan McDonagh, booting home 28 winners in 2012. All jockeys, whether starting out or established, need one or two ‘Saturday horses’ to keep their name in lights and to give them the opportunity to compete for the bigger prizes. Carroll got his that same year and it was a filly called Lily’s Angel (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}), trained by Ger Lyons, who gave the jockey some of his best moments in the saddle to date.

Formerly trained by Richard Fahey, Lily’s Angel arrived in Ireland with a smart level of form, but had run disappointingly on her final few starts in England. She landed running in Ireland, winning a premier handicap at Leopardstown in September under Carroll who proceeded to partner the filly on her next 12 starts until she retired in November of 2013. In that period, Carroll won six times on the filly, including a valuable handicap in Meydan and two stakes races in England and she also came close to giving the jockey a still sought after Group 1 victory when the pair were narrowly beaten into second by La Collina (Ire) (Strategic Prince {GB}) in the G1 Coolmore Matron S. at Leopardstown.

“She was unbelievable, she started winning handicaps then graduated into group races and I owe a lot to her,” said the jockey. “She took me to England and Dubai and it’s hard to get on these good horses so I really appreciate it now. Invincible Ash was also a special filly for me; I won six times on her including my first group race when she won the [G3] Sapphire S. at The Curragh in 2011.”

As with so many jockeys over the years, the transition period from apprentice to fully-fledged jockey can often be a lonely place with countless talented riders finding themselves in no man’s land for a time unless they have the backing of a major stable.

“It was tough, I just had to get stuck in and work hard,” Carroll admitted. “I spent a lot of time on the road riding for different trainers. I could be in Tipperary with Joe Murphy one day or in Meath with the likes of Ger Lyons, Sheila Lavery and Michael Mulvany another day. I put up a lot of mileage but thankfully it’s beginning to pay off.”

While Colin Keane is first jockey to Ger Lyons and rides the majority of horses, Carroll has found a niche there courtesy of the evergreen Brendan Bracken (Ire) (Big Bad Bob {Ire}). Carroll undeniably gets a great tune out of the 8-year-old, his last three rides on the David Spratt and Sean Jones-owned gelding have yielded wins in a listed race at Cork, the Irish Lincolnshire at Naas and a listed race at Leopardstown.

Said Carroll, “He’s a great old horse and he’s been really good to me. He gives his all every time he runs and he is just so dependable.”

Carroll’s link with Fethard trainer Joe Murphy has also proven a fruitful one over the last few seasons. Murphy’s filly Only Mine (Ire) (Pour Moi {Ire}) has provided the jockey with two stakes wins; a Group 3 at Naas last year when she beat Washington DC (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}) in the Lacken S. and more recently when she justified favouritism to beat the grand old warrior Gordon Lord Byron (Ire) (Byron {GB}) in a listed race at The Curragh on Irish Derby weekend. That connection has also been instrumental in Carroll riding a stakes winner for John Oxx recently.

When Flying Fairies (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}) won the Listed Lenebane S. at Roscommon last week, it was Carroll’s first winner for John Oxx from only a handful of rides.

Carroll explained, “Frank Dunne bought Flying Fairies from Joe Murphy last year and I had won a listed race on her at Leopardstown for Joe, so when Frank sent her to John Oxx thankfully he wanted me to ride her, given that I had won on her and knew her. I’m very grateful for that and again it’s great to get the opportunity.”

Carroll’s winner for John Oxx also continues the family’s association with the Oxx stable which stretches right back to when John Oxx Senior was training.

“Dad would have ridden quite a bit for Mr. Oxx’s father back in the seventies, so it was nice for me to be able to do the same for Mr. Oxx last week,” he said.

While initially having reservations about their son forging a career as a jockey, it must be rewarding for Gary Carroll’s parents to see him making a success of things, though Gary is mindful that he has a long way to go to match his father’s achievements.

“Dad retired from the saddle in 1989, the year I was born, so although I don’t remember anything about his career, he’s filled me in on the important parts,” he said. “He was champion apprentice in his day with Clem Magnier so it was nice for me to emulate that achievement. However, he won the St Leger on Gonzales in 1980 for Vincent O’Brien so I have a bit to do to match that.”

Though in his early sixties, Carroll Senior still rides out for Dermot Weld and keeps a close eye on his son’s performances  in the saddle, making sure to offer guidance when needed.

“I talk to him every day and he always has an opinion whether I like it or not, but usually he’s right,” said Carroll. “He is a great help as he can read a race very well.”

Carroll’s mother Sally is also a well-known figure in Irish racing through her work in the Irish National Stud and Gary is quick to credit her for his success to date.

“She offers great support, she goes to all the local meetings when I am riding and having seen it all before with dad, she knows it’s a game of highs and lows and there’ll be good days and bad days,” Carroll added.

At the moment Carroll is happy with his lot and while ambitious he is also realistic. “I just want to keep riding well and working hard,” he concluded. “All you need is one good horse to come along that can make a big difference. Ireland is so competitive, we are competing against some of the best horses and some of the best jockeys in the world and if you don’t turn up with your A-game every day of the week, you will get left behind.”

Given Carroll’s work ethic and current rate of success, it appears the good days will continue to outnumber the bad days.

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