By Michael Manley
In the middle of last year, the last thing Irish jumps jockey, Willie McCarthy, expected he would be doing was riding in Australia a year later.
McCarthy broke three bones in his neck in a serious fall last June at Virginia in the United States and his riding future was in doubt.
At the time, as he lay on his back in hospital the only decision he had made was that he wasn’t going to ride in the United States ever again.
McCarthy had broken his neck and not one jockey was reprimanded by the stewards which infuriated him.
McCarthy moved to the United States from Ireland in 2012 and in 2014 he was crowned the leading jumps jockey. He rode predominantly for trainer Jack O. Fisher.
McCarthy started his career in Ireland with John Allen and they had kept in touch.
Allen suggested he should come to Australia. McCarthy also is friends with Steve Pateman who stayed with him when he rode in the United States in 2017.
“I spoke to several people. I contacted Johnny Allen, Steve Pateman and Bloodstock agent Jonny McKeever and they all said to come as there should be opportunities here,” McCarthy said.
“I had a good enough career in the United States but it’s gone downhill in recent years. For me Australia was an attractive place to come. Around jumps racing they are making all the right moves and it's moving in the right direction here,” he said.
“Also the stewards are very strong and police the sport well. It’s very well run here with Racing Victoria and the AJRA giving it their full support.”
"It's the right time for me to come here. I'm 38 and feel I've got a lot of good riding left."
McCarthy said it was a big effort for him to get to Australia.
“It wasn’t easy getting here. Recovering from a broken neck in the midst of a global pandemic and trying to get here,” McCarthy said.
He arrived in Australia at the start of May and did two weeks of quarantine in Sydney before arriving at his base of Ballarat on May 14.
McCarthy rides work for the Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace stable and he said Declan Maher has been a great help in him getting his Australian licence.
McCarthy has ridden 88 winners in the USA with a total of 190 in his career.
McCarthy will make his Australian debut at Warrnambool where he has three rides. He will ride The Dominator in the Thackeray Steeplechase for Henry Dwyer and Catalanic in the Mark Primmer Memorial Steeplechase for Aaron Purcell.
“I had a sit on The Dominator this morning and he felt good. I rode Catalanic to win a trial at Warrnambool and she felt like the big fences suited her,” McCarthy said.
“I’m really excited and hope I can make a winning start.”
Dwyer admits it’s been stop and start with The Dominator’s jumps career due to tendon injuries but said he’s ready to run a big race.
“He’s just been unlucky. He’s had a couple of tendon injuries which require rehabilitation and they have usually come at the start of the jumps season,” Dwyer said.
“He’s been with me for five years and he’s missed two seasons.”
“It’s a big task taking on Flying Agent but at least we know he’s beaten him before. I think he's ready to run a big race,” he said.
Last year, The Dominator defeated Flying Agent in a Benchmark 120 at Pakenham.
“He’s a very good jumper but over the hurdles he was a bit too aggressive. He respects the fences a bit more.”