Hightstown, NJ — Andy McCarthy was looking for his first Breeders Crown trophy when he arrived at Woodbine Mohawk Park this past Friday. By the time the weekend was completed, he had put himself among a small group of drivers to win four or more finals in a year.
He set himself apart by doing it without the benefit of a favorite.
McCarthy became the eighth driver with at least four Crowns in a year, joining record-holder David Miller (five in 2015), John Campbell, Yannick Gingras, Mike Lachance, Ron Pierce, Brian Sears, and Tim Tetrick. Campbell, Gingras, Pierce, and Sears accomplished the feat twice.
But none sans chalk until McCarthy scored with 2-year-old filly trotter Ramona Hill (14-1), 2-year-old filly pacer Reflect With Me (27-1), pacing mare Caviart Ally (5-2), and 3-year-old male pacer Dancin Lou (5-1).
“It’s surreal,” the 33-year-old McCarthy said. “It makes me feel pretty good about where I’m at right now. You want to give yourself a little pat on the back after hearing something like that. It’s a pretty nice little niche to be in.”
McCarthy, a native of Australia who has raced regularly in North America since 2007, has seen his purse earnings increase annually since the start of 2013, reaching a career-best $6.56 million this season. For his career, he has won $44 million in purses and nearly 2,400 races.
He got Breeders Crown triumph No. 1 in the first of the event’s 12 races, capturing the 2-year-old filly trot from post 10 with Tony Alagna-trained Ramona Hill.
“I was quietly confident going into the weekend; I didn’t expect four, but I knew I had four or five decent chances,” McCarthy said. “Ramona Hill, even though she had the 10-hole, I still considered her one of the better shots I had throughout the weekend because I know how talented she is. She wasn’t herself the week before, but I knew Tony would get on top of that and have that figured out. I hold her in high regard as one of the better horses I’ve ever driven. I think she’s that talented.”
McCarthy was happy to get his first trophy quickly.
“It’s always really nice to break the ice,” he said. “Winning the first of anything, it’s always nice to get that out of the way, then you can kind of relax and move on and not have that monkey on your shoulder. Just being able to concentrate on your job without any added pressure as the weekend goes on is definitely nice.”
He was back in the winner’s circle again in the very next race with another Alagna trainee, Reflect With Me. Then on Saturday night, he again got off to a fast start when Brett Pelling-trained Caviart Ally upended her nemesis, Shartin N, in the mare pace. Caviart Ally had finished second to Shartin N on five occasions this season before winning their most recent two outings.
“She’s been terrific all year, I just haven’t been able to get the better of Shartin until now,” McCarthy said. “It does feel good. That rivalry, I think it’s a good rivalry as much as any rivalry. Even though Shartin has had the better of us all year, it still is a rivalry. When people turn on that race, they’re wondering how it’s going to go down. I think we put on good racing. I think it’s very good for racing. It’s very cool to watch and even more to be a part of it.”
McCarthy wrapped up his four wins with Dancin Lou, trained by another Aussie import (and first-time Crown winner) Tahnee Camilleri.
“That was special because I’m good friends with Tahnee,” McCarthy said. “She’s a special person. She’s so happy and emotional. She was crying in the winner’s circle and couldn’t stop hugging the horse and I just love to see that. That worked out really cool. It was a lot of fun.”
The weekend was also cool because McCarthy’s younger brother Todd, an accomplished driver in Australia, came to visit for the Breeders Crown. The two spent the week together and got to hang out in Toronto the day prior to the Breeders Crown’s opening night.
“I had a quiet week back home, so I thought I’d jump on a plane and come over and cheer him on,” Todd said. “It’s pretty awesome to be here and experience it with him. These races are so hard to win. I think that’s what we’re all here for, to try to win these sorts of races. To be here is pretty special. I called home and mom and dad were buzzing. It’s great.”
Also cheering on Andy was his wife Katrina.
“It was even more special having her there as well,” Andy said.
McCarthy was grateful to all the trainers and owners that gave him the chance to drive horses in the Breeders Crown.
“Without them, none of this would be possible,” McCarthy said.
“Everybody always remembers these nights. As far as winning big races, this is right up there. I know there’s a lot of them, but still it’s nice to have at least one of those trophies on your cabinets.”
After a moment, he said with a laugh, “I might even have to buy a trophy cabinet now.”
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McCarthy was not the only driver from Down Under to get his first Breeders Crown at Mohawk. New Zealand native Dexter Dunn, in his first full season of racing in North America, got two trophies.
His first came with 2-year-old male trotter Amigo Volo for trainer Nifty Norman and the second with trotting mare Manchego for trainer Nancy Johansson.
“I probably have to pinch myself a little; really, it’s hard to believe,” Dunn said in a winner’s circle interview. “Back in New Zealand, I followed the American races, like (Hambletonian) Day and Breeders Crown, and I’d be back in New Zealand watching them on TV and now I’m here. It’s pretty cool. It’s very exciting.
“I’ve been extremely lucky with the support I’ve gotten since I’ve been here. I have a lot of people to thank. It’s been a great ride and I’m enjoying it thoroughly.”
Dunn has won 336 races and $10 million in purses this year. His earnings rank third in North America.
“It’s been a great year,” Dunn said. “(Trainers) Chris Ryder and Nifty Norman were two of the first ones to jump on me and supported me when I got over here and got me kickstarted. Without their huge support I wouldn’t be here.
“I’ve been very fortunate this year with the horses I’ve gotten to sit behind. It’s been a pleasure.”