By Michael Manley
The Thackeray Steeplechase meeting at Warrnambool on Sunday proved to be a great celebration of jumps racing with a mixture of outstanding performances by horses and impressive riding and training results.
For the trainers, the state’s leading barn, Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace claimed a winning treble capturing the feature hurdle race the Kevin Lafferty Hurdle with Saunter Boy, and victories with Wil John and Norway.
Over-shadowing their performances though was former Irish and American based jockey Willie McCarthy who claimed a winning double at his first day riding in Australia on his first day of riding in over a year.
McCarthy said a year ago he was lying on his back in hospital in America with a broken neck and wondered whether he would ever ride again.
He said it was unbelievable that a year later he was winning a feature race in Australia.
McCarthy grew up in Ireland with Johnny Allen and stayed in touch with him throughout his career where he has spent the past ten years riding in the United States where he was crowned champion rider in 2014.
McCarthy also got to know Steve Pateman from when he rode in 2017 in the United States. He said Pateman and Allen advised him to head to Australia and ride.
McCarthy said he spent the first two weeks of May in quarantine in Australia and watched the Warrnambool May carnival and he loved it.
He became so indoctrinated with Warrnambool from watching it he even used commentator Rick McIntosh’s well worn line after his win saying: “How bloody good is the ‘Bool’."
The Dominator’s trainer Henry Dwyer, who has trained two Group One winners, said the win by his fencer was one of the highlights of his career.
“I can’t remember feeling as proud after a win. I’ve trained Group One winners and good flat winner’s but this was something different again. This was a different feeling,” Dwyer said.
“It’s a bit easier to train a flat horse. So much time and effort goes into preparing a jumper and The Dominator has been part of the furniture in my stables for six years.”
“He’s had to battle tendon injuries. Everyone loves him in the stables. He spent so much time rehabbing at St Leonards at the beach and on the treadmill there. It’s been a big effort from the team,” he said.
Dwyer said The Dominator would have his next start in the Mosstrooper Steeplechase at Pakenham in two weeks where he will also have his other jumper Riding High in the same race.
Dwyer was impressed with McCarthy’s riding style saying he looked like a flat jockey riding in a jumps race with the way he sits in the saddle.
Pateman said he faced a tough decision as to which of Saunter Boy or Will John he would ride in the Grand National Hurdle.
Pateman said both horses were rising stars.