Racing: McCarthy pounces on Festival break

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The Independent Online
WHEN A jockey gets a break so, sometimes, does a colleague. All National Hunt riders get injured and all must inure themselves to the liability of losing money and the kudos of winning mounts in their absence.

It is perhaps nature's way of sharing the funds around, as the good rides, by definition, are awarded to the supposedly better riders. When they go missing, you soon see the dust cloud filling the horizon as potential substitutes, the bedrock of the weighing room, arrive for consideration.

The man who successfully presented himself at Newbury on Saturday was Jimmy McCarthy, who collected the winning ride in the Tote Gold Trophy on Decoupage after it was announced that Norman Williamson would be absent.

McCarthy knew before most that Stormin' was struggling with neck spasms and may even have opened a bedroom window to exacerbate the problem. The two men share a house in East Garston, at the epicentre of Berkshire's National Hunt territory.

Williamson owns the property and McCarthy may have forfeited the turn- down service. He is unlikely to find a chocolate on his pillow any more.

"I knew in the morning that Norman was struggling with his neck, but he thought he'd be all right and said he'd see me at the races," McCarthy said yesterday. "I do a lot of work for Edgy [Decoupage's trainer Charlie Egerton] and with Jamie [Osborne, who was booked for Vent D'Aout] being tied up as well I knew I'd a chance.''

It must be said that a ride of this magnitude does not come McCarthy's way frequently. He may have been riding winners for 10 years, but not many of them have been rewarded with great garlands. As he steers towards his 30th birthday this year, McCarthy knows at least he will never have the onus of continual rides at the highest level.

The prospect of riding Decoupage did not worry him for a moment. "Because I didn't have a moment to think about it," he said. "There was no pressure at all.''

Before Saturday, the Irishman's greatest winning moments had come on Young Snugfit and Coulton, though his most memorable association came three years ago at the Cheltenham Festival with Mysilv, when the mare was worn out of the Stayers' Hurdle on the run-in by Cyborgo. Two days earlier she had finished sixth to Collier Bay in the Champion Hurdle.

As this year's Festival sucks us in, McCarthy seems to be perfecting his self-promotion. Only last weekend he won another signature contest when Him Of Praise collected Uttoxeter's National Trial Handicap Chase. If you don't book him now, you never will.

"I haven't got anything definite at the Festival yet and I'm just looking for what I can pick up," the jockey said. "But hopefully if there is a good spare now I'll get a shout.''

It is this aspiration, the belief that one good horse could re-direct their career that keeps men like Jimmy McCarthy going. "There is not a lot of difference between all the jockeys," he said. "Of course you have got the Dunwoodys and McCoys up there, but there are a lot of good lads who are up to the job but never get given the chances.

"It's seriously competitive and there's probably only seven to 10lb between the whole lot of the main weighing room, but it's all a question of being in the right place at the right time. Over the last couple of weeks I seem to have done that.''

Decoupage himself has been cut to 20-1 from 66-1 for the Champion Hurdle by Coral, though he may well to run in the County Hurdle. If he did go for the Festival's opening day showpiece, however, recent history suggests he would be no water bearer. Two years ago, Make A Stand completed the Tote Gold Trophy and Champion Hurdle double, while the previous four Newbury winners - Squire Silk, Mysilv, Large Action and King Credo - all finished fifth or better at Cheltenham.

Certainly Decoupage has better prospects of taking the timber title than I'm Supposin - third and fourth in the big one over the last two years. Richard Rowe's horse, quoted at 20-1, has heat in a joint and will miss the rest of the season.

n 1996 Grand National winner Rough Quest, pulled up and apparently lame at Haydock on Saturday, was reported to be ``perfectly sound'' at his Dorking, Surrey, stable yesterday.