“Everybody gets excited to go to Far Hills.”
Matt McCarron said what everyone else on the circuit is thinking as Saturday nears.
McCarron, a veteran of 182 career wins and two-time jockey champion, first rode at Far Hills in 1993 and won his first race aboard Turkish Corner in 2000. He has the mount on EMO Stable’s Orison for Doug Fout in Saturday's $250,000 Grand National and Sally Radcliffe’s Jellyberry for Bruce Miller in the $50,000 Peapack for fillies and mares. He’ll be on the lookout for more.
“As riders, it’s our biggest day – every race is a stakes – so you want to ride every race if it’s possible. It’s our premier meet and the hunt-meet equivalent of Saratoga,” McCarron said. “Basically I’ll just look at the entries and see what mounts might be available and go from there. You do everything you can to secure a ride.”
McCarron has been aboard Orison’s 10 starts over hurdles, including his biggest win to date, the Grade II Carolina Cup over novice foes at Camden in March 2007. In September 2007 Orison gave divisional leader Good Night Shirt a major scare in the inaugural running of the Grade I Lonesome Glory Stakes at Belmont Park, rallying boldly in the final furlong to just miss by a length. It’s been a struggle since, with five straight off-the-board finishes against top company.
Orison returned from a summer freshening Saturday at Morven Park in a training flat race, running fourth with McCarron aboard. The jockey was excited by the effort and believes the 6-year-old could be moving forward at the right time.
“I thought he ran excellent – he exceeded all my expectations. He usually disappoints in his flat races but on Saturday he ran great,” McCarron said. “He was lively in the paddock and almost bucked me off when Barry (Watson) dropped the flag. He made an effort, which is the important thing, as last year at Far Hills he didn’t do that. He gave me a nice late kick and that makes me a little more positive about running on Saturday at Far Hills.”
Orison ran sixth in the Grand National last fall over a soft Far Hills course that wasn’t to his liking. McCarron is encouraged by early weather reports and is eager to see whether Orison is a flat-track specialist or just may not have cared for the Far Hills ground last year.
“He’s a horse that is best on good ground, so it looks like the weather might cooperate and we’ll get that on Saturday,” McCarron said. “He came within a length and a half of Good Night Shirt last year at Belmont, so his best races might be at the flat tracks, but with that being said he ran well at Radnor last year and just missed to Best Attack in the (National) Hunt Cup.
Like Orison, Jellyberry is another who runs best on firm ground. McCarron rode the daughter of With Approval once, in last year’s Peapack, when she failed to pick up the course and finished fifth. This season Jellyberry broke her maiden at Atlanta and ran second and third to divisional leader Guelph in a pair of spring stakes starts at Nashville and Fair Hill. McCarron got aboard Jellyberry for a trial run earlier in the month and is eager to top last year’s Peapack outing.
“I schooled her a few weeks ago and she went great, so I’m very excited to pick up the mount on her. She’s a young and improving horse who I also believes likes firmer ground,” McCarron said. “Last year when I rode her the ground was hock-deep but she still jumped great for me, so I’m looking forward to riding her on Saturday over a course that should be more to her liking.”