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McCarthy has his head in the game.


Warrnambool May Carnival spruik horse Stern Idol just got a whole lot scarier.

It’s not because he’s a thumping colossus of a racehorse. Nor is it because he’s been anointed as jump racing’s Pride Of Jenni clone with his identical front-running style.

Irish jockey Willie McCarthy, Stern Idol’s regular rider, says the horse’s real strength lies elsewhere. It’s Stern Idol’s precision timing and cleverness at the fences, according to McCarthy, which gives the nation’s premier jumper an undeniable advantage.

“For me, he’s obviously a very big horse with a big stride, but his accuracy at jumping is faultless,” McCarthy said. “He’s not this massive, flamboyant jumper who is taking huge strides at every fence. “But what he is, is a horse who is very accurate, very quick. “Whether it be a long straight or a short straight, he doesn’t lose any momentum.”

McCarthy says the $175,000 Scotty Stewart Brierly Steeplechase (3450m) presents as the perfect race to exploit Stern Idol’s key traits.

Mathematically, if McCarthy’s observations are correct, then it’s hard to argue against the prospects of Stern Idol, already the odds-on favourite in early betting markets.

“He makes half a length, a length, maybe two lengths at some of the jumps,” McCarthy said. “At Pakenham we raced over 3500m and there were 10 jumps.

“In the Brierly ‘chase we are going to go 3450m and I think there are 19 or 20 jumps. “If you add all that up with his jumping ability, which I think is one of his key components, I don’t think they will see where he went.”

The Ciaron Maher jumper first set tongues wagging with two extraordinary performances in the Crisp and Mosstrooper Steeplechases last year.

He eclipsed his rivals by a cumulative 45 lengths.

When asked whether Stern Idol could mimic those two wins, McCarthy didn’t even break stride. “Yeah, look there are no certainties in horse racing, especially jumps racing, but I’m very confident with this horse,” the Irishman said. “I feel like he has improved after the win at Pakenham. “In fact, his Pakenham win was his fastest time of all his ‘chase wins. He was 15 lengths faster.”

McCarthy didn’t shy away from the fact that Stern Idol was his best for the carnival but did warm noticeably to Budd Fox in the $350,000 Grand Annual.

“Obviously Stern Idol is the big one. He’s had a huge following for the past couple of seasons with the jumps racing people in Australia,” he said.

With a very strong book of rides, McCarthy felt the Henry Dwyer-trained Budd Fox, getting in on the minimum weight in Thursday’s classic, would be one of his better ones.

“It’s a huge advantage for that race over 5500m,” he said. “He (Budd Fox) didn’t have to do all that much to win at Pakenham.

“He’s got good heart, he stays very well. He’s got good form out of the Jericho a few years ago, too. I think he is coming into the race very well.”

Asked about his own preparation for Warrnambool, McCarthy said it was business as usual, but with an emphasis on plenty of shut eye.

His program will consist of Ballarat trackwork for Maher on Tuesday morning, followed by races at Warrnambool, then home to his own bed. It will be the same routine for three days, before breaking the cycle on Thursday night for what McCarthy hopes will be a celebratory ale or two.

“I like to ride a few in the morning. Being a bit older, it’s great to ride a few and loosen up,” McCarthy said.

With more than 200 winners across three continents, taking in his homeland Ireland, England, the United States and now Australia, the 40-year-old knows all the tricks.

The humble jockey has been living Down Under for two-and-a-half years and readily admits he’s been blessed with success over the steeplechases since.

“Warrnambool has been very good to me. I rode my first winner here when I came to Australia. Since then, it’s been a very lucky place to me,” he said.

“I love the track. I love going up the hill. It’s a good course and I’ve been lucky to get on some very good horses there.” But one of the classics still eludes him.

“It would be nice to win another Annual. I have won a good handful of all the feature steeplechases. But the Brierly is still the one I need to tick off,” McCarthy said.