Mr. Saturday night special

Andy McCarthy is second in the Big M standings mostly without driving on Fridays.

by Debbie Little

Driver Andy McCarthy, known as “The Thunder From Down Under,” has been taking The Meadowlands by storm on Saturday nights in 2024.

“You know, I try not to race too much over the winter break,” McCarthy said. “But the book of drives that I’ve had on Saturday nights have definitely been worthwhile turning up for.”

McCarthy chose to limit his starts during the winter to spend the majority of his Friday nights with his wife Katrina and boys Finn, 10, and Oliver, 8.

“I was there whether they liked it or not,” Andy said with a laugh. “We had a great winter. My boys, they’re just terrific boys and my wife’s unbelievable. So, every moment with them is a blessing. We’d sit home and play board games or have a movie night where the kids could stay up a little bit later because the weekend’s coming up and just getting to spend some quality time with them.

“It’s a pretty long summer and I’m absent a lot throughout the summer [during stakes season]. So, it is nice to try to relish every moment I get throughout the winter. I know everyone told me don’t blink, they’ll be asking for the car keys before you know it, and they were right, the time flies.”

Andy has started at The Meadowlands in 157 races so far this year. Fourteen Saturdays encompassed 149 of the starts with the remaining eight spread over two Friday night cards.

His 34 wins — all on Saturdays — put him in the place position, just 17 wins behind leader David Miller, and Andy has made 130 fewer starts than Miller this year.

Andy’s win percentage of 21.7 leads the way amongst the 12 drivers with 100 or more starts with the next closest being Miller at 17.8. That win percentage for Andy goes up to 23 if you only include his Saturday starts.

Of the top 25 Meadowlands drivers in the standings sorted by wins, only Meadowlands Amateur Driving Club members John Calabrese (four-for-seven) and Tony Beltrami (eight-for-30) have better win percentages than Andy, at 57.1 and 26.7, respectively.

“I don’t really pay that much attention to [win percentage], to be honest with you,” Andy said. “I just kind of go to work and try to do my job. I think most of it just comes down to the horses I’m driving. I was just fortunate enough that I’ve got some good people behind me and their horses were in the right classes and it just kind of worked out that way this year.”

Now that spring has arrived and stakes season is getting started, Andy’s Fridays at home have started to lessen, as he recently competed in the five preliminary legs of the Blue Chip Matchmaker at Yonkers Raceway.

With baby races on the horizon and more top stakes horses getting ready to qualify, Andy said there are quite a few that he’s looking forward to sitting behind this year.

“Noel [Daley’s] got a couple of trotters there that are really nice, Buy A Round and Sig Sauer,” Andy said. “They both feel like they’re coming back pretty strong. Tony [Alagna’s] got a 3-year-old pacing colt that I trained [Saturday] morning, Better Is Nice. He feels terrific.

“I’m really looking forward to this year. I think I’ve got some really, really cool horses to drive and I’m very fortunate to be able to be trusted to sit behind these animals. They’re really amazing.”

Better Is Nice, a son of Bettor’s Wish—Thatsoveryverynice, was seven-for-11 as a 2-year-old, winning both the Kentucky Sire Stakes and New Jersey Sire Stakes finals, banking $510,120.

At 2, trotting filly Buy A Round (Walner—On Your Tab) never finished off the board in nine starts, winning six of them. She made $355,600 winning the NJSS final and finishing third in the Breeders Crown. Trotting colt Sig Sauer (Muscle Hill—Sigilwig) banked $279,500 at 2, going four-for-five and winning both the NJSS and NJ Classic finals.

These two trotters could have Andy hoping for Hambletonian glory again since he won America’s Classic Trotting Race in 2020 with Ramona Hill, a daughter of Muscle Hill—Lock Down Lindy.

“You can’t top winning that race,” Andy said. “That’s one of my favorite memories of being in this game full stop. It’s just an unbelievable race and for a girl to do it against the boys and the way she did it; her elimination was freakishly outstanding. And her win in the final; she matched her dad’s stakes record there. She went 1:50.1. It was just a very, very proud moment, not just for me, but for the mare. She was just on a different level.”

According to Andy, when he came to the U.S. from Australia in 2007 to learn to be a better blacksmith, he could not have imagined being where he is today.

“Not at that stage,” he said. “Obviously, you know, when I first came over The Meadowlands was, I guess you could call it, in its golden era with John Campbell and Ronnie Pierce and Cat Manzi and Mike Lachance.

“It was getting along pretty good there and it was a tough place to get into. I just kind of bided my time and it just kind of worked out, you know.”

Now, 17 years later it’s Andy in that spotlight.

“For me, the hardest part about this game is telling people with really good horses that you don’t want to drive them because you’ve got another one that you think might be better,” he said. “Definitely the hardest part about the business is saying no to people. And they’re very good horses and it’s understandable that [people] get upset. But it’s all just part of the business, really.

“I’m kind of a big-picture guy. I always try to do what I think is best for me in the big picture. It might not be the right call on the night, but by the end of the year, it usually pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. But, hey, that’s just how it goes. That’s how the cookie crumbles.”