By Michael Manley
Last year Willie McCarthy got his first taste of the Warrnambool May Racing Carnival but it wasn’t what he had in mind.
The former champion Irish and American jumps jockey watched Warrnambool from isolation in a hotel room in Sydney.
Next week though he can’t wait to be part of Australia’s biggest country carnival with several key rides in big races.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It was on this time last year just after I had gotten into Australia. I watched it in quarantine. I was thinking it would be nice to be taking part,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said watching the Warrnambool carnival last year gave him the feel of a successful Irish jumps’ festival race day such as Galway.
“The people there are the real backbone of racing people. They are there to watch the races, they are there for the racing and the sport more so than the champagne and the lunches. It’s the kind of race meeting I will be feeling very at home at,” he said.
McCarthy only arrived back in Australia recently and was successful on Riding High in the J.E.H Spencer Steeplechase on his first day back in the saddle at Pakenham on Easter Monday.
McCarthy was recently granted a four-year working visa from the Australian Government and has signed a two-year contract with the Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace stable.
McCarthy said he was looking forward to ending his successful career with a stint in Australia.
He said that Ciaron Maher and AJRA chairman Sandy McGregor were pivotal in getting him back to Australia and securing the visa.
Last year McCarthy had a successful stint in Australia winning seven races from 24 rides and he was able to claim the Grand National Hurdle on Wil John and the J.J Houlahan Hurdle on Saunter Boy.
McCarthy has some key rides next week including Heberite for Maher and Eustace in the Grand Annual Steeplechase on Thursday.
McCarthy said Steven Pateman had first option on the Maher and Eustace horses, but he couldn’t make Heberite’s weight.
He will also ride Big Blue for the stable in the feature event on Wednesday, the Galleywood Hurdle.
“The Galleywood is shaping up as the strongest field for the week. He’ll have to be at his very best to beat the likes of Saunter Boy, Out And Dreaming and maybe even Brungle Bertie.”
McCarthy said he was privileged to be part of a stable such as Maher and Eustace and also to be part of their riding team with Pateman.
“Steve and I are big mates. I’ve got a bunch of respect for him. He is a world class rider, if he had the same horses in any other country he’d be up with the best jumps riders in the world,” he said.
“With the stable Steve has to make the hard choice as he has to make the pick which one he rides. I’m very grateful to get the second or third pick.”
I feel very privileged to be here riding with him and competing with him. To be able to beat him now and then is a great privilege for me.”
McCarthy said he had always planned to retire as a rider when he was 40 years old.
“I’m 38 and ever since I started riding I had a timeline on it. When I was 40 years old, I'd put a cap on it. In two years if things are going as well as they have here, I might be interested in another year or two,” he said.
McCarthy said he was still trying to come to terms with how he ended up riding in Australia a year after he broke his neck in a race fall in the United States which was supposed to have been career ending.
“Things happen for a reason. Every cloud has a silver lining but that was a big cloud to deal with my broken neck but this trip down here has been a silver lining.”
“I’m really looking forward to being here for the next couple of years. Jumps racing here is fantastic, it’s very professionally done and the future looks bright here.”
McCarthy said he was amazed by the success of Maher and Eustace with both jumps horses and flat horses.
“They are fantastic with jumps horses and flat horses. I’ve worked all around the world and I’ve never come across a stable which is the only leading flat trainer and leading jumps trainer at the same time. In Ireland and America it’s either one or the other.”
“Declan (Maher) is also fantastic. He does all the schooling and he takes charge of the jumpers.”
McCarthy is also hoping to pick up some rides for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott next week.