DICK McCARTHY REMEMBERS.
Gatwick is an airport in the county of Sussex not far from London. When Richard McCarthy used to frequent Gatwick it was “the best track in England, nearly two miles round and it took some jumping I can tell you. I think they even ran a war-time National there.” A fine action shot in McCarthy’s Hotel shows Dick on a horse called Priority jumping the water at Gatwick upsides a horse piloted by a fellow jockey whom he remembers as Billy Payne.
Of the third generation of McCarthy’s to own Fethard’s esteemed watering hole, Dick was born upstairs on the premises on March 5th, 1905. Aside from his exploits as a hurler, footballer, rugby player and hotelier, he is best known for his activities in the field of National Hunt racing as a Jump Jockey.
From a young age
Thirty odd stables behind the hotel ensured that Dick was involved from a young age, constantly riding and hunting in the school holidays. In 1928, after riding one point to point winner, he took out a licence and that season rode one winner in carthyClonmel.
By the start of the 1929-’30 season he was installed in Bob Gore’s big jumping stable at Findon in Sussex, home place of today’s NH Supreme’s Josh Gifford, among others.
“My first season I rode 17 winners,” Dick explained, “I lost my 5-lb. Allowance and I was unlucky not to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. A certain Captain Norman had a few horses with Bob Gore and they had first claim on F. B. Rees, one of the flash jockeys of the time. That year they had a fancied runner called Lloydie. Anyway, Rees asked Captain Norman to release him off Lloydie to ride Easter Hero for Jock Whitney. So he let him go. Easter hero won the Gold Cup and I was second on Lloydie.”
Dick spent three years with Bob Gore but returned to Fethard every summer to ride horses regularly for the late Larry Keating, who trained in the town; the armitage’s of Noan, Fethard, and the Moloney’s of Croom in Co. Limerick, of whom Dick has especially fond memories. Parents of the legendary duo of Jockeys, Martin and Timmy, Dick remembered often being led round by one of the young Moloneys and reckons he would have won the Galway Plate for them on Timberwolf but for jockey and horse parting company at “the last”.
A trainer Dick remembers well is the late Curragh handler, Paddy Beary, and he recalled during our conversation a horse called Piping Time. Owned by the late Prince Aly Khan, the current Aga Khan’s father, Dick rode the horse twice winning on both occasion.
Not long after, Beary took Piping Time to Royal Ascot, where he won with (Sir) Gordan Richards up.
A simalar feat was achieved by a horse trained by Dick’s old guv’nor, Bob Gore, in 1930. The day after Dick’s valiant second in Easter Hero’s Gold Cup, Gore and Fred Rees won the Champion Hurdle with Royal Falcon.
By June that year Royal Falcon, too, had won at Royal Ascot, one Steve Donohue got the ride. Of these two remarkably versatile horses, Dick remarked: “If you have a horse that can go anywhere and win at Royal Ascot, you can say you have a racehorse, can’t you?” you bet.
This led me on to ask Dick whether he ever considered following a career as a trainer himself but the response was negative except for a brief but successful spell during the war years.
“A lot of horses came back to Fethard during the war and I was asked to take a few. I trained a mare in my wife’s name, Last minute, and she won the Dunraven Cup over three miles in Limerick on St. Stephen’s Day. The next day we pulled her out again and she won a two mile “chase”.
Unsurprisingly, along with Killarney, Dick named Limerick City as his favoured course. “I reckon my name must be on that Dunraven Cup more times than anyone else’s!”
The main problem during the war was petrol, there simply wasn’t any. “We had terrible trouble getting around and you couldn’t hire a car but if we were going down to Mallow, say, what we’d do was get a bus down to Cappa near Dungarvan, get a train to Mallow, race there and catch the train going back to Thurles that night, where we’d have a car to meet us.”
Dick paused before going on. “And I’ll tell you what I did. After racing in Listowel we used to stay out in Ballybunion. One time we had ridden down from Limerick on push bikes.
“After racing we got up on the bikes in Ballybunion and said we’d ride back to Limerick and put the bikes on a bus there to Clonmel.
“We got to Limerick, big queue for the bus there, no chance of getting on it, or our bikes, no train going back that night until late. ‘that’s no good,’ we said, got up on the bikes and never got off until we arrived in Fethard; that must be a 100 miles.”
After 22 years
In January 1950 Dick McCarthy handed in his jockey’s licence after 22 years in the saddle. After such a lenghty and successful career he is quick to point out that he was lucky to avoid long layoffs through injury. Aside from demolishing his pelvis in a row at Galway, he broke no limbs.
Talk of injuries made me think of Liverpool and how I’d neglected the fact that it is most jump jockey’s premier ambition to ride the winner of National Hunt’s Blue Riband. Dick had three rides in the Grand National but drew three blanks. His best effort was on a ‘chaser’ of Walter Nightingales called Savernake, who fell at the last fence on the first circuit. “That’s the fence before the ‘chair’ ditch,” sighed Dick, with a hint of remorse in his voice, much like a man who ate vast ditches like Beechers and the Chair regularly for breakfast!
Fit and Busy
At the age of 80 Dick keeps himself fit and busy helping out Fethard’s chemist, Donal O’ Sullivan. He makes regular runs up and down the country fetching and carrying as well as delivering to County Tipperary’s many studs and racing yards. Much to my surprise though, he confesses not to be a regular racegoer. “I went to Galway one day last month, the place was packed, but you’d have to show up somewhere sometime, otherwise they’d think you were dead or something!”
For historical purposes it is surely worth noting that when Dick McCarthy went to England as a 5-lb. claimer and rode in a race worth less than £100, he would receive the princely sum of £3 for the ride plus an extra fiver if he got home in front. If the race was worth more than £100 he collected a £5 note for the ride and a tenner a winner. Make what you will of that.
The 1930s were vintage years for NH racing and so too for Dick McCarthy. They were the years of Easter Hero and Lloydie, of Golden Miller; of mighty and fearless punters like J.H. Whitney and Miss Dorothy Paget and of the great sires Gold Court, My Prince and Cottage. It was a privilege to talk to Dick, one of County Tipperary’s most revered characters and sportsmen.