CHAMPION globe trotting jumps jockey Willie McCarthy is a pragmatist with a business-like attitude to winning jumps races but he admits he has a fondness for his Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace trained namesake Wil John.
There are compelling reasons why McCarthy has an attachment to the tough chestnut.
When he linked up with Wil John in the 2021 Grand National Hurdle only a month after he started riding in Australia he thought the portents were good as his name is Willie John McCarthy.
Then he was then able to win the Grand National Hurdle at only his 15th ride in Australia ensured Wil John would hold a special place in his heart.
On Sunday at Sandown Lakeside, McCarthy will again be on Wil John as he attempts to become the first horse this century to have officially won two Grand National Hurdles.
Maher and Eustace are also aiming for three in a row as they won it last year with Saunter Boy.
McCarthy said the Grand National Hurdle win announced him to Australian jumps racing.
“That win put my name up in lights here. It kick started my career here. It was amazing and I’m keen to make it two Nationals on him on Sunday,” McCarthy said.
Since that win it has been a case of going from strength to strength for McCarthy who has since won almost every feature race on the jumps calendar.
Wil John though missed all of last season and suffered his first loss in four hurdle starts when he resumed with a seventh placing in the Kevin Lafferty Hurdle at Warrnambool on July 2.
McCarthy said it was a run on a heavy track which knocked the cobwebs out of him.
Wil John was in contention before the home turn but was beaten soon after turning.
McCarthy said Wil John, although he was having only his second run back over the jumps was ready to fire.
“He’s going very well. He was going well before the Kevin Lafferty but he feels different now. He’s glowing; he’s turned the corner and he’ll love the distance.”
McCarthy pointed out that Wil John carried only 64 kilos and has 68 kilos on Sunday but he felt that wouldn’t worry him.
“He’s a big strong horse who won’t be concerned by his weight. He trialled up well at Warrnambool and I’m going there thinking he’s a great chance.”
“He’s only been beaten once over the hurdles and the prospect of a firmer track is also in his favour.”
Last year McCarthy finished second in the Grand National Hurdle on the Paul Preusker trained St Arnicca.
McCarthy will also ride exciting fencer Stern Idol who will run in the Crisp Steeplechase (4200m).
He said the rise in distance from 3500 metres at Pakenham at his last start when he won by 20 lengths to 4200 metres was a question mark for the dashing fencer.
“He’s got to go twice up the hill at Sandown so it will be a test for him. It’s a good race and he takes on a tougher field with top jumpers like his stablemate Rockstar Ronnie and also Tolemac in the race.”
“I think he’s improved though and he’s in super form. He’s an exciting horse.”
They are McCarthy’s two rides for the program and he’s hoping to make some inroads into Aaron Kuru’s big lead in the jumps jockeys premiership.
Kuru has ridden 14 winners for the season with McCarthy on eight winners.
“It’s a good season if I can get over ten winners. There’s only 14 or 15 jumps races to go so I’ve got a bit of work to reel him in.”