Lexington, KY — Driver Todd McCarthy was a star Down Under, so it comes as no surprise that the 29-year-old Australian found immediate success after moving his base to the United States in August 2020.
McCarthy’s penchant for finding the winner’s circle — he’s already won 629 races and $12.8 million in purse earnings — resulted in him being voted the 2021 Rising Star of the Year Award winner by members of the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
On Saturday (Aug. 6) at The Meadowlands, McCarthy hopes to add to his impressive resume a win in the 97th $1 million Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters at The Meadowlands. Making his first appearance in the trotting classic, McCarthy will drive the Jim Campbell-trained Cool Papa Bell (15-1 morning line), starting from post six in the 10-horse field.
McCarthy’s brother Andrew won the 2020 Hambletonian with the filly Ramona Hill, and he’ll be behind Looks Like Moni in Saturday’s final. That gives the McCarthy brothers the distinction of being only the second pair of siblings to ever compete against each other in the trotting classic, joining Ulf and Jan Nordin (Sandy Bowl and Baltic Speed) back in 1984.
Following last Saturday’s two Hambletonian eliminations, Todd McCarthy found himself on the outside looking in as his two mounts failed to finish in the top five and advance to the final. He said passing Campbell in the paddock later in the night led to his getting the drive on Cool Papa Bell, who had finished third in his elim for Brian Sears, who elected to direct the filly Joviality S (third in her elim) in the final.
“(Molotov Cocktail) was unlucky and Testing Testing had a good trip, but it wasn’t his night,” explained McCarthy. “At that point you’re a little bummed at the time, but I was fortunate enough to bump into Jim (Campbell) after and he asked if I would go with him. It’s nice to be in a spot where people are thinking of you.”
McCarthy said growing up in Australia he was well aware of the prestige of the Hambletonian.
“It’s a race that is up there and when you are younger you dream of being a part of and even being able to win,” he said. “It’s cool to pick up a drive and be in the race.”
Cool Papa Bell — named for a 24-year star in Negro league baseball from 1922-1946 and a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame — is owned by Scott Farber’s Runthetable Stables. The son of Chapter Seven-Blk Thai Optional comes into the Hambletoniaan with three wins in seven starts this year, including a career-best 1:52.4f effort in a New York Sires Stakes leg at Tioga Downs. Cool Papa Bell comes into the Hambletonian with $260,999 in career earnings.
While this will be McCarthy’s first time behind Cool Papa Bell, he is familiar with the trotter.
“I watched the horse race a little bit before and raced with him, and he’s a pretty nice colt,” said McCarthy. “Hopefully we can figure out a trip Saturday and be at our best.”
McCarthy added he was happy with his trotter drawing post six.
“Not too bad at all; I’ll take the six over the 10. It’s a good starting point for us,” he said. “This is one of those races where I don’t think anyone is going to go wandering, so I hope we can settle in nice and have a shot from there.”
Campbell is looking for his second Hambletonian trophy, the first coming back in 1995 when Tagliabue captured the trotting classic. McCarthy is impressed with Campbell’s approach.
“I’ve driven for Jimmy before and I found him really, really good to drive for,” said McCarthy. “He’s very realistic and tells you things about the horse that he thinks are important to know. As far as instructions go, he’ll sort of leave that up to you. He’ll indicate if a horse races better a certain way, which is always nice to know. He’s obviously a terrific trainer and understands racing really well, so he’s a great guy to work for.”
McCarthy had success on last year’s Hambletonian day card, which was his first since arriving in North America. He directed Allywag Hanover to a win in a $158,500 Sam McKee Memorial division (he later drove the pacer to a world-record-equaling 1:46.4 victory in the Allerage at The Red Mile), and he also finished fourth with Darlene Hanover in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks.
As for joining his brother, Tetrick and O’Donnell in the exclusive “double million-dollar race wins club,” McCarthy admitted he wasn’t aware of that possible accomplishment.
“I hadn’t really thought about that, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but that would be a pretty exclusive club to be in, that’s for sure.”
Racing begins at noon (EDT) Saturday for the stakes-filled Hambletonian Day card. Watch from 12:30-5 p.m. on Fox Sports 2 (FS2) with coverage including the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks at 4:48 p.m. Watch from 6-7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) with coverage including the $1 million Hambletonian at 6:35 p.m. For free TrackMaster programs of every Meadowlands card, visit the track’s website here.