t was once suggested that it was easier to get quotes out of Marcel Marceau than Tommy Carberry.
His praise for the wonder horse of his career, L’Escargot, was succinct, reflecting on him as “a proper steed”, high praise from a man of few words and the father of an Irish racing dynasty.
L’Escargot was best known as the horse that finally dethroned Red Rum in the Grand National but is also one of only two horses to win both the National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup – the other being Golden Miller.
Quite why he never seems to get the adulation he perhaps deserves is partly down to the public affection for Red Rum but also, in part, because of the understated praise from Carberry and his trainer and father-in-law Dan Moore.
While the Carberry name has lived on following his death through his riding offspring, that of L’Escargot has not to quite the same degree.
This year’s Cheltenham Festival marks 50 years since the second of two Gold Cup victories. The name – literally the French for the snail – was not actually tongue in cheek but his owner Raymond R Guest’s response when told the name ‘Let’s Go’ had already been taken.
Of the lack of praise, Moore’s son and assistant trainer to L’Escargot, Arthur said in one interview with the Racing Post: “I do think he’s always been a bit under-appreciated. His name doesn’t come up that often, does it? He was very tough, a very sound horse and he looked after himself a little bit, which probably helped him last as long as he did.”
His owner was interesting too – Guest had been the United States ambassador to Ireland – appointed by Lyndon B Johnson, and boasted Winston Churchill among his cousins.
And Guest had already enjoyed successes on the flat, his chocolate and pale blue colours the first past the winning post at the Derby with Sir Ivor in 1968.
For L’Escargot’s first running of the Gold Cup, he was a 33-1 outsider and, despite being outjumped over the final two fences by French Tan, pulled clear to take the victory.
A year on, he was a 7-2 joint favourite and again the result was the same, Carberry not having to push so much over the line on this occasion.
From that point, Guest became obsessed about him winning the National after it was pointed out to him that turning L’Escargot into a horse for the Aintree fences was a better option than buying a potential National winner.
Moore Jr recalled: “He’d sent my father several horses for that purpose but none of them were much good. One day my father told him instead of buying one to win it, you already have one in the yard who might.”
But he fell after just three National fences in 1972 before finishing third the second year. When runner-up a year later, it seemed L’Escargot would be too old at 12 to be a realistic challenger to Aintree favourite Red Rum in 1975.
But on that occasion, L’Escargot defied the odds and the public expectation for a notable win to add to the Cheltenham Gold Cup double.
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