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Jay Bergman: Australian driver McCarthy finds success in United States
By Jay Bergman
Having talent is one thing. Having talent and getting recognized for it is something completely different.
Harness racing has had its stars, and many of those who climb the ladder of success take a very slow route to get there. Very often, it takes some form of luck to vault those with potential into the limelight.
For Andrew McCarthy, a young driver whose blood is rich with racing in Australia, his biggest break probably happened in one of his very first attempts at the Meadowlands back in 2007.
McCarthy, who, after a chance meeting with U.S.-based trainer Noel Daley in Australia, decided to leave his country and come to the United States with an eye on seeing the world, got his opportunity because many of the top drivers at the Meadowlands had left for Ontario to compete in the North America Cup.
That left the door ajar for McCarthy when Daley needed a fill-in for John Campbell and elected to put the 21-year-old in the bike behind Took Hanover in a $46,500 Open Pace at the Meadowlands in June 2007.
“It was the greatest thrill of my life, winning a race in 1:49 at the Meadowlands,” said McCarthy, now 27 and a fixture at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.
For McCarthy, who had been driving in Australia since he was 16, the time had come to move on and explore.
“I was getting a little bored, and I wanted to see something different,” McCarthy said of his decision to come to the United States.
Though he did work a little with Daley, helping him with training horses, McCarthy’s desire was to be a driver, and that’s where he put his focus.
In Australia, McCarthy’s brother, Luke, is the leading driver. His father’s stable is one of the biggest, and it recently relocated from Brisbane to Sydney.
Andrew McCarthy’s rise has been steady. He’s developed a solid following at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and earned the trust of top conditioners Daley and Aaron Lambert.
“They’ve given me a great opportunity to drive, not just top overnight horses but some quality stakes horses as well,” said McCarthy, who has sat behind some great ones in North America, including Muscle Hill, My Little Dragon, and Southwind Tempo. “You can instantly tell the difference driving special horses like those.”
Perhaps what separates McCarthy from most catch-drivers is his general philosophy on life.
When he arrived in the United States in 2007, he applied for and received a six-month working visa. After a few years, he decided to stay a bit longer each year.
“I was getting regular drives at Pocono, so I decided to come when the Pocono meet began in March and stay until the Pocono meet ended in November,” he said.
That approach has worked quite well, as McCarthy’s mounts have earned more than $11 million since 2007.
After the meet ends each November, McCarthy goes on an extended vacation to different parts of the world. Over the past few years, he’s spent three months in South America and three months in Southeast Asia, traveling, hiking, and seeing the world. The idea of working 12 months a year doesn’t interest him.
“I like the seven-month schedule,” McCarthy said. “The racing is great at Pocono, and I get to drive some top stock on the weekends.”
While other drivers tend to do doubleheaders, going from Harrah’s Philadelphia in the day to race at other tracks at night, McCarthy is comfortable staying where he is.
“It’s the kind of thing that if you go out of town on one Saturday night, you don’t only just miss the mounts that night, but you may not get them back when you return,” he said.
McCarthy did step away from Pocono Downs last week, driving at the Meadowlands on Friday night and then at Freehold for Lambert in Saturday afternoon’s Dexter Cup. Last Saturday night, he captured three races at Pocono Downs and has a healthy UDRS (Universal Driver Rating System) of .254 while driving against a solid group of reinsmen.
“The quality of drivers here is the best in the world,” he said. “It definitely helps to make me a better driver having to race against and compete with this group.”
McCarthy is looking forward to the 4-year-old campaign of Lambert’s prized pacer, Dynamic Youth. The son of Bettors Delight was an upset winner in last year’s Cane Pace at Tioga (with George Brennan driving) and was one of the better 3-year-olds in training. The horse is nearing his first pari-mutuel start of 2013.
McCarthy guided Dynamic Youth to a 1:49 2/5 mile at Pocono Downs last year. He also drove the gelding in both the elimination and final of the Confederation Cup and missed a scant neck in the $587,315 final to Michaels Power after trailing most of the way.
Dynamic Youth won a qualifier May 2 in 1:53 2/5, and McCarthy is looking forward to his debut.
“I’d like to try to win any of the big races with him,” McCarthy said. “It’s a game of luck. You just have to take it week to week and hope for the best.”
While McCarthy definitely is a driver who likes his free time, he is looking forward to the summer. “I’m driving just four days a week now, and it will pick up some in June, when Pocono adds Fridays,” he said.
The driver has shown great talent-making speed and has been as adept racing from on or off the pace. Rarely does he seem out of position, and he hardly makes mistakes while on the racetrack.
McCarthy has shown talent with trotters as well. Last week, he drove Magic Tonight to a 1:52 4/5 victory and was impressed with the way the 4-year-old has returned this year.
Speaking of returns, McCarthy said he’s eventually going to resettle in Australia.
“If I were back in Australia today, I’d have to work 12 months a year to earn a living,” he said. “I like the way it’s working out right now, but I would say eventually I’ll end up in Australia.”
There are privileges that come with talent. McCarthy has the skill to be independent and is able to live life to the fullest. Few choose to enjoy the ride as he does.
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