by Debbie Little
Going into this weekend’s racing, driver Todd McCarthy sits atop the Meadowlands’ Fall Meet standings with 30 wins.
Not bad for the expat whose first drive at the mile oval was on Sept. 11.
McCarthy is not the first driver to come to the Meadowlands and make their presence felt, but to do it so fast may be a first.
Both Brian Sears and Tim Tetrick rose to the top at the Big M quickly, but unlike McCarthy, they had been established elsewhere in the U.S. before going there.
McCarthy had been thinking about trying things in the U.S. for a while when he visited North America in 2019 to see his brother Andy race in the Breeders Crown at Woodbine at Mohawk Park.
“I think seeing the success that [Andy] had there was obviously a big push for me to make the move,” Todd said. “For me it was pretty awesome to be there on that night. It was definitely motivating for me to get over.”
Todd arrived Stateside at the end of August, somewhat delayed by COVID-19.
“I sort of started the process with my visa before corona hit and I kind of had my heart set on being able to come over this year,” Todd said. “I would have liked to have been over a little earlier in the year, but obviously things got slowed down. Really, I was probably pretty lucky in hindsight that I only got pushed back a few months.”
Todd, 27, arrived with a resume that included winning the 2018 Inter Dominion and being the top driver at Menangle Racetrack in Sydney for five years, but now he was going to be taking on the big boys at the mecca of harness racing.
“As a kid growing up, you think of the Meadowlands, that for me has always been the pinnacle of harness racing, so to be able to get there and actually have a few drives, it was pretty surreal,” Todd said. “And not long after, I had a few winners come with it, so it was an amazing start for me in North America.”
He was shutout on his first night at the Meadowlands, but the next night he made some noise winning four of the 13 races.
“I got to drive qualifiers [on Sept. 5 and 12] first so that was good to get a feel for the track,” he said. “I’ve got to say, since being here in America, it’s been my favorite track to race at, The Meadowlands. I love going there every Friday and Saturday night.
“It might sound a little corny but I love getting there especially at night time and you can see New York City in the background,” he added. “To me, it’s a pretty special place to be racing horses.”
Trainer Noel Daley has known Todd since he was a kid and thought the driver was something special the first time he saw him in the sulky.
“I said to a friend of mine, a very smart judge in the game, real early in the piece, ‘You watch, this guy’s going to be a top five or six driver within 12 months.’ And he said ‘No.’ And I said, ‘You watch.’ “I’m happily surprised for him that it’s happened this quick,” Daley said. “That it happened, that didn’t shock me at all.”
Todd’s win with the Daley-trained Anoka Hanover in the $451,800 Goldsmith Maid for 2-year-old trotting fillies last Saturday night put the driver at the top of the Big M standings, one in front of Dexter Dunn, who won four stakes races on that same night.
“The most amazing part of it is [Todd] really hasn’t driven young trotters before,” Daley said. “He wouldn’t have driven more than a handful tops of young trotters before he came here. And that’s a pretty tough ask, trotting fillies.”
Todd knows his U.S. experience so far has been exceptionally good, and he can’t thank all the trainers — both expat and American — enough who have taken a chance on him.
“I do my best to make the most of every race and I hope it works out,” Todd said. “I honestly thought when I came over here that I’d be picking up a drive here or there and I’d be doing it pretty tough there for a while. But I think just the timing, the way that things worked out, was that Andy was away and he was able to recommend me and at the same time there was also a handful of great drivers that were away for stakes races and I probably just arrived at the best possible time that I could have.”
Todd said the most important thing he’s learned about racing at the Meadowlands is patience.
“Learning to just feel like you’ve got a little more time, sometimes,” he said. “You see great drivers and they seem like they’ve got all day to make decisions on the racetrack. In my eyes, I think that’s a pretty great asset to have on your side.”
Todd was fortunate enough to secure a visa that will allow him to stay in the U.S. for a few years and would be extendable if necessary.
“It was a good head start for me where I didn’t have to worry about going home any time soon,” Todd said. “My plan is to stay. I’m really enjoying it at the moment and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
He has never celebrated Thanksgiving before, but the timing couldn’t be better since he truly has so much to be thankful for.