07/16/2014 5:46PM

Pandolfo: Andrew McCarthy brings in the longshots

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Harness driver Andrew McCarthy started driving in his native Australia when he was 16 years old. In 2007, when he was just 21, he came to the states.

“I intended on staying about six months,” he said. “I actually came here to learn more about shoeing horses, and to drive a horse I owned named Durango Kid. I was staying with trainer Noel Daley. He already had a good farrier so I started catch-driving. Three weeks after I got here, I won the Open at the Meadowlands with a horse named Took Hanover. That was pretty exciting, so I stuck around.”

McCarthy does most of his driving at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs. After the meet closes at the end of November, he goes back to Australia until March. But last winter he decided to come back early and race at the Meadowlands. He missed the first few weeks of the meet, but started driving on January 18.

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“That was my first winter here and it was a cold one,” said McCarthy. “I wasn't used to it. In Australia, it can get to freezing but it's usually around 50 degrees during the day. On some of those cold and windy nights last winter, it was tough. Even with gloves on, my hands were hurting.”

But McCarthy persevered and had a solid winter meet despite driving horses that appeared to have little chance of winning.  Of his 17 wins, almost all were longshots. He had one winner that paid $5.00, but every other winner was a price. One night he brought in $68.60 and $22.00 winners; another night he had $62.80 and $37.20 winners. He also won with longshots that paid $45.00, $34.20, $32.60, $27.00, plus seven other double-digit winners.

McCarthy is self-effacing and joked when I told him that he did a good job winning with horses that looked like they had no shot based on past performances.

“Some of those horses were probably longshots because I was driving them,” he chuckled.

McCarthy suggested that you need luck to win with slow horses, but I researched every winner he had, and there was only one winner that had an easy ground-saving trip. With $19.00 winner Lady Son Yador A, he left from post nine, tucked sixth and won from second-over. With $22.00 Simply Business, he left from post seven, tucked and won first-over. With Fearless Chip ($37.20), he left from post six and overcame a first-over trip to win by a nose. Later on the same night, he was ninth early with Rockin Wizard ($62.80) and picked up terrible cover, but got up with a late rush and a :26 4/5 final quarter.

McCarthy lives in the Poconos, a half-hour drive to Mohegan Sun and a hour and a half drive to the Meadowlands.

“Some drivers are very hard workers; they drive double headers; they travel a lot. I think I would get burned out. I don't mind an occasional double header, but my wife and I just had our first child, a boy, and I want to spend as much time with them as possible,” said McCarthy.

The 28-year-old McCarthy has over 1,000 career wins and earnings north of $15 million, with most of those wins coming at Pocono.

The driver colony at Pocono Downs, which was good last year, is tougher than ever. Brett Miller has made an impact this year, and leading driver George Napolitano, Jr. is always a force to be reckoned with. But McCarthy, ranked fifth in the standings with 62 wins, is having another solid season.

“The drivers at Pocono are good and there are a lot of aggressive drives,” McCarthy said. “It's tough driving against the top drivers like Tetrick, Gingras, and Sears, but I like driving against them. Dave Miller, who just got inducted into the Hall of Fame, is one of the best I've seen, in my opinion. He wins a lot of races but he doesn't use his horses that hard. Jimmy Morrill, Jr. drives at Pocono a lot and is very talented. I think anyone who's driven against him will tell you that he's one of the best.”

McCarthy does see some differences between driving at the Meadowlands and Pocono.

“At the Meadowlands, you really need to have a horse,” said McCarthy. “Just putting your horse in a good spot isn't enough. Once the horse gets into that long stretch, it needs to have some class to continue on.  On a five-eighths track like Pocono, I feel that I can take advantage of other driver's mistakes, win some races with weaker stock.”

McCarthy also had some interesting comments on speed bias.

“The racing has definitely changed,” he said. “A few years ago, second- and third-over were pretty good trips at Pocono, but now everyone is going as fast as they can right from the start and speed holds up well. In my opinion, the track surface doesn't seem as deep as it used to be. But the horses still seem to be handling the surface well. When it rains, you can still come from off the pace, because the track is deeper when it’s muddy.”

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The Down Under native still keeps a close tab on the racing scene in his homeland.

“Things are turning around, especially in some of the areas, like North South Wales and Victoria,” said McCarthy. “The purses are good and the sport is doing well. But, they only race two or three days a week.”

A problem they had with racing in Australia was the classification system. It used to be that when a horse got into a top class it couldn't drop down. That's one of the reasons why so many good horses were sold and brought here.

“They're changing the class system,” McCarthy said. “They've got non-winners conditions now, similar to what we have here, so horses can drop in class. That's helped.”

McCarthy plans to drive at the Meadowlands next winter, and then set up shop at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs when that meet starts in the spring.

“I like driving at both tracks,” he said. “It's good to see that the Meadowlands has come back. Gural has done a good job there. It's good for the sport.”

To find out more about Pandy’s handicapping theories check out his www.trotpicks.com or www.handicappingwinners.com websites, his free picks at handicapping.ustrotting.com/pandycapping.cfm or write to Bob Pandolfo, 3386 Creek Road, Northampton, PA 18067.