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A good walk unspoiled

Top Striker, McCarthy take $50,000 Carolina Cup

Posted: March 30, 2014 2:27 p.m.
Updated: March 31, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Using the Springdale Race Course as his classroom and his good friend and retired National Steeplechase Association champion jockey Jonathan Smart and Camden-based trainer Mickey Preger as his professors, Willie McCarthy went back to school last week in the days leading up to McCarthy’s ride aboard Top Striker in Saturday’s 82nd running of the $50,000 Carolina Cup steeplechase.
As the three men reached the spot where the field would turn for home, Smart, who rode Jimmy Lorenzo to a 1988 Colonial Cup victory, told the 30-year-old McCarthy this is where to make his move.
As if working from a textbook, McCarthy gave a tug on Top Striker’s reins as the field of six novice jumpers made their way to the 10th of 11 National Fences. With a confident bolt, Top Striker carried McCarthy past pace-setting Easy Reach and dashed away from the field, winning the Camden spring classic by 11 ½-lengths over Easy Reach.
The winning time for the 2 1/8-mile trip was 4:01.2/5.
For Camden resident and Top Striker’s owner, Sue Sensor, and Camden-based trainer Arch Kingsley, this was their second time having teamed up on a Carolina Cup winner.
In 2011, the Sensor-owned and now-retired Sunshine Numbers won the Carolina Cup by a race-record 27 1/4-lengths. This victory was much closer, but no less sweet for Top Striker’s owner and her husband and Camden businessman and philanthropist, George Sensor.
“It’s more fun here,” Sensor said of winning in Camden. “I feel that (Top Striker) belongs to the town as much as he belongs to us. Everybody gets so involved in it and now that he’s run twice here, maybe he will take Sunshine’s place in everybody’s heart and they’ll come out and cheer him on when he does run here.”
As for the race itself, Jeff Murphy took Easy Reach to the front from the drop of the starter’s flag with Top Striker in close pursuit as the leader set an honest pace. Cat Feathers, trained by Camden by Kate Dalton and ridden by her husband, Bernie Dalton, sat in third, which is the way the top three stayed until the field headed to the ninth fence. It was there that McCarthy put what he had learned a few days earlier into practice.
“I walked the track with Jonathan Smart and my boss, Mickey Preger, during the week and that had been the plan,” McCarthy said of the call as to when to let the hammer down on his mount. “We wanted to get three (fences) from home and see how the pace was at that stage of the race. That was where I was planning to make my move.
“It was brave to go that far from home but it was what I felt I needed to do on my horse and it worked out beautifully. I just let him out, about half an inch of the reins, and he jumped three out really well and I found myself beside (Easy Reach.) I just told him it was time to go on and, let’s go win the race.”
Once having successfully cleared that hurdle, McCarthy said t was when he decided to, pardon the pun, strike.
“I had a great lead from (trainer) Jack Fisher’s horse (Easy Reach) in front. I always felt I had him covered at every stage,” McCarthy said of him 5-year-old Van Nistelrooy gelding. “I had a lot of horse coming three (fences) from home. I just didn’t want to get into position where he was coming up against a horse with a lot of speed down the stretch.”
Top Striker took the lead for keeps heading into the 10th fence and went inside on the 11th and final fence and easily held off   tiring Easy Reach. Cat Feathers was another two lengths back in third followed to the wire, in order, by Sporty (Roddy Mackenzie), Albany Road  (Kieran Norris) and pre-race favorite Martini Brother (Ross Geraghty.)
“I sent him on quite a bit from home but I knew I had enough horse to do that,” McCarthy said. “He jumped the second last and the last really fast and got away from them pretty quick. He just put his head down and my God, just watching the video, I didn’t know he was so impressive. He’s a superstar. I’m just so proud of the horse.”
Trained by Kingsley in his barn located across the street from the Springdale Race Course, Top Striker was a three-time winner on the flat for trainer Rodney Jenkins and then, Michael Matz before being claimed by Sensor last January after a win at Gulfstream Park. McCarthy, who galloped Top Striker for Matz in Florida, urged Kingsley to put in a claim for the gelding. Soon thereafter, with Sensor’s blessing, the horse came to Camden.
This was the fourth start over fences for Top Striker, which won a $25,000 allowance maiden chase at Springdale Race Course last November on Colonial Cup day.
Given the home course advantage, the quality of his horse and how well he was training, Kingsley admitted to believing that Top Striker was sitting on a big race on Saturday.
“Oh, yes. Oh, yes,” Kingsley said when asked it felt good about Top Striker’s chances in the Carolina Cup. “He’s been training so well.”
The immediate plan for Top Striker is to continue riding in novice chases through the spring with a race or two in Saratoga, if things go right, his trainer said of what is next for the Carolina Cup winner.
Kingsley, a former NSA riding champion who has two Carolina Cup and a pair of Colonial Cup victories to show for his career in the irons, said he left the ride up to McCarthy while not giving his jockey any explicit directions before the race.
“I left (the ride) up to Willie because he knows the horse so well, now,” he said. “It was pretty much his call as to how to ride him and he made all the right moves, thank goodness.
“I thought the ride was spot-on beautiful; as tight as could be. It was just right. The horse is a very talented jumper and Willie used him in all the right places.”
McCarthy said that while Kingsley left the ride and where to make the move to the front up to the jockey, the trainer did have some parting words for McCarthy before Top Striker exited the Springdale paddock.
“The last words Arch told me coming out of the paddock were “’Be as close as you can for as long as you can by doing as little as you can.’ Those were wise words,” McCarthy said. “We just sat him behind the pace without doing much. It worked out really super.”
While having lived in Camden for just a few months, the County Cork native said he is starting to feel at home here. And winning a Carolina Cup only intensified that level of comfort.
“It’s such a great feeling to ride for Arch here in Camden and to win the race here for the Sensors; it’s a great feeling,” he said after having kissed the Carolina Cup trophy. “I spent the winter down here so, it’s just like being home for me. It’s really like riding a winner at home. I’m really overjoyed with it.”

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