History says there aren't too many better at dealing with "big-race presure" than New South Wales reinsman Luke McCarthy.
On Saturday night McCarthy has a strong book at Ballarat’s Breeders Crown semi-finals meeting, with drives in seven of the eight semis, and he looks certain to qualify several of his stable stars for the rich Super Sunday finals program at Tabcorp Park Melton next Sunday.
McCarthy’s leading Breeders Crown chance according to the markets is three-year-old filly Nike Franco, who is a $2 favourite with the TAB to take out her series final.
Nike Franco is coming off a brilliant Queensland campaign that netted her connections the Tatts Gold Coast Oaks, the Group 1 Queensland Oaks and a comfortable win in the Breeders Crown heat at Albion Park when a money-back favourite last time out.
McCarthy spoke confidently about Nike Franco’s chances in the three-year-old girls’ second semi-final from gate five.
“I think we’d find the front. She was unbeaten in Queensland and she’s improved since then,” McCarthy said.
“I think if she can find the front then she’s the horse to beat.”
McCarthy also has a serious live chance in the two-year-old boys’ Breeders Crown with rising star Birdy Mach.
Winning his heat on Saturday night however will be tough, as New Zealand superstar Follow The Stars has drawn three while Birdy Mach will start from gate 12.
“Follow The Stars would probably be the best two-year-old I’ve ever seen. I’m a big fan of his,” McCarthy said.
“With Birdy Mach it will be nice for him not to have to go forward and make the pace this time from the draw. We can drive him with a sit and I’m looking forward to it.
“He’s a real high-speed horse so driving him from back in the field will suit.”
McCarthy also has Ominous Warning in the two-year-old colts and geldings’ section, the son of Four Starzzz Shark to begin from gate 11 in the first semi-final on Saturday night.
Ominous Warning won his Breeders Crown heat at Menangle in 1:59.1 with a last half of 55.1 seconds but was only 75 per cent that day, says McCarthy.
“He’s right back to his best, so almost at 100 per cent I’d say,” McCarthy said.
In the two-year-old fillies’ semi-finals McCarthy will line up Smooth Showgirl and Bamako Mali in Races 2 and 6.
Smooth Showgirl has drawn gate three in the first semi-final, with New Zealand star Linda Lovegrace and Vicbred Super Series champion Niki No No drawn outside her.
“She’s got good speed early so it will be nice to go forward and get a prominent position early,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also sang the praises of Bamako Mali, who has drawn gate nine in her semi.
“She’s just as good when driven with a sit as she is when she goes forward,” he said.
But McCarthy is concerned the Kiwi fillies might have the wood on the Australians this year in the juvenile girls’ section. “I think the Kiwi fillies look pretty strong this year,” he said.
Bling It On and Lettucerockthem will both carry the McCarthy polish in the three-year-old boys’ section, with Lettucerockthem drawn gate eight in the first semi-final while Bling It On will start from 10 in the second.
Bling It On has run into New Zealand champion Our Sky Major in the semi, but if the promised early speed of pole horse Saloon Passage and his driver Nathan Hurst is delivered then Zac Butcher has some decisions to make aboard the series favourite.
For Bling It On, a hot speed up front would play into his hands.
McCarthy is looking forward to playing the race by ear, the horse’s versatility allowing the reinsman to go into the event with several plans of attack.
“I’ll just see how it the race presents itself,” he said.
The 10-race Ballarat meeting kicks off at 5.35pm.
Cody Winnell - Harness Racing Victoria
The TAB is offering a $200,000 quaddie jackpot on the night -- for more details visit tab.com.au