The key to any Thoroughbred trainer's success is the quality of people around them. Trainer Todd Pletcher learned that from his mentor, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Pletcher, the two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, is working with the same model. Holding down the Churchill Downs barn is assistant Mike McCarthy.
McCarthy first went to work on the racetrack in 1990. He's been working for Pletcher since the spring of 2002. In those four-plus years, Pletcher's barn has grown and is now at the top of all the leader boards. He's run away with meet titles; has set stakes records; has shattered earnings records, only to better them the next year. He recently tied Lukas' '87 mark for graded stakes wins in a single season: 53.
"To be honest with you, it's amazing the caliber of horseflesh that comes through here," McCarthy said outside Barn 34 at Churchill Downs Monday morning. "I've been here since the first of April and I came here straight from Payson Park (in South Florida)."
While he hasn't been preparing for the Breeders' Cup since April, he does have things in order and is prepared for Pletcher's Wednesday arrival with the New York contingent of horses.I'm the Organizer
McCarthy goes into his office, opens a drawer, and pulls out several sheets of paper and places it on the desk. He points to a grid with each of the Breeders' Cup horses' names on it.
"Race times, post times, Lasix times; all their equipment; all their help," McCarthy said matter of factly, pointing to the papers. "There's 45 minutes between races. Here's the whole schedule well go by.
"I'm the organizer. When Todd gets here, he'll get this right away and he won't have to worry. It's all squared away. We're ready for this."
On this day, McCarthy has a crew of 32 people attending to the 32 horses. They've been doing all the little things to make things so smoothly Saturday.
He checks another print out. He knows on Wednesday that Pletcher will be arriving with 17 more horses...give or take one or two. With that, they'll be more grooms and assorted help coming in.Central Nervous System
Pletcher, and his assistants, can't do their job with someone attending to the massive amount of paperwork necessary with a Thoroughbred operation of this magnitude.
"All of the office work, which is a very
big part of this operation, is headed by a girl named Margaret Sweet," said McCarthy. "She handles all the administrative, all the office stuff. She's at Saratoga, along with Anna Seitz.
"Margie is kind of like the central nervous system. Everything goes through her one way or another: paper work, shipping plans. It's a full-time job for. I'm on the computer at least an hour every day.
"A small mistake, whether it be glitch in a health certificate, or a Coggins, or something like that, colors, markings, it can be a disaster. The way this operation works, the small things can blow up and make for a huge situation. Enthralled by Racing
McCarthy, 35, was born in Youngstown, Ohio, but grew up in Arcadia, Calif. That's the home of Santa Anita Park, the "Great Race Place." As is typical with most people in the horse business, he started going to the track at a young age.
"A couple of my buddies from high school, their fathers were involved in racing as owners," he said. "I started going to the track, skipping school after lunch and going to the racetrack. I immediately became enthralled with the whole thing."
At some point, McCarthy will move on to his next assignment which will be a homecoming of sorts. He'll be heading up Pletcher's assault on Southern California later this fall with a barn full of runners at Santa Anita.
"I am looking forward to it (returning to California), because we're going to compete at Santa Anita, which is one of the toughest race meets in the country," McCarthy said. "But in a job like this you become a little bit of a nomad. It's almost like picking up and going somewhere else again. Obviously, it'll be nice to go home and see family. It's nice to be home around the holidays."