The Unique Journey of Pegasus Contender Toast of New York

The Life
Toast of New York, above, is the pride of Jamie Osborne’s racing team and the ownership group of Al Shaqab International Racing stable (Sheikh Joaan Al Thani), Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Randy Hill Stable, and Eric Young. (Julie June Stewart photo)

Toast of New York is a most unusual horse. It’s not often that one sees a stallion take a break from his breeding duties and return to racing. But a healthy stallion that still has the fire within him? You do a double take when you see him around the track. Trainer Jamie Osborne explains Toast’s personality.  “Toast is an individual thinker. He is selfish and could care less about anything in his life except for himself. He is intelligent. He is very unusual. He has a whole different persona when he is at the track.  Watch him 10 minutes before the race is run. He is like an animal. He loses his mind. When he came in second at Del Mar [in the TVG Pacific Classic in 2014] the announcer said (incredulously) that the English horse that behaved so bad has won second.” Indeed!  When he raced at Santa Anita in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic, he was so spun up that he scraped his backside on the wall of the tunnel entering the track. Osborne said that prerace he is a tiger. But on the track exercising in the morning, “he lops around like old dobbin.” 

There has been a man by Toast of New York’s side throughout his racing journey. It’s been said that he has three kids: his two sons and Toast. When you talk with Jimmy McCarthy, you instantly understand that this is true. There is a phenomenal relationship between him and Toast. You just have to look into his Irish blue eyes and deep within, you can see the love and respect between the man and the horse.

McCarthy’s journey with horses began in Skibbereen, West Cork in Ireland. There were always horses in his family as they were farmers. His first pony was named Bella, and he thought she was pretty cool and fun to ride. The first horse he sat on was a plow horse. He was probably 4 years old and his family would put him up on the horse while he held onto the two brass hames on the horse collar. His dad rode in pony races when he was younger. “It was always what he wanted to do.” McCarthy pauses as he thinks about his father and continues with, “Then being a farmer,” which tells an entire story in that short phrase. His head lifts when he continues, “and I was the one to follow.”

Jimmy McCarthy checking on Toast of New York. (Julie June Stewart photo)

McCarthy is soft-spoken but takes the time to choose his words wisely. I had been told that he was “not a talker,” but I found this to be the opposite when we stood outside Toast’s stall in the quarantine barn at Gulfstream Park before the Pegasus World Cup. Sometimes you have to lean in to catch what he is saying but that adds to his charm.  There is a certain lilt to an Irish brogue that evokes both an air of mystery and a longing to visit Ireland.  Sometimes when he is speaking, he pauses as he gathers his thoughts. With his eyes on Toast, he doesn’t miss a detail doing an instant evaluation every time the horse walks by. In a split-second, the color of his eyes can go from steely blue (like flint) and then return to a soft blue that conjures the warmth of an Irish sky. It’s delightful to listen to him.

McCarthy gave a real go at trying to ride flat races. He served his apprenticeship in Ireland for three years and then went to the United Kingdom with the intention of staying maybe a year before traveling around the world. Under his breath, he softly says, “Horses can get you around the world,” which is certainly the case. “I didn’t have any intention of riding as a jump jockey. But the chap I worked for [William Terence Casey] kept badgering me to get my license. And I did eventually.” McCarthy stayed with Terry Casey for three years. “Got a few winners and got going, and then I was at a crossroads where either I give it a proper shot or go traveling again. And I decided to give it a proper shot.”

His first win was over the jumps. McCarthy allowed himself a small smile of pleasure. “Obviously you want to do it all over again and over again and again.” He rode the jump racing circuit for 23 years in Europe and the United States. He said the ponies taught him the most about horsemanship. The pony circuit consists of “horses” who are 12.2 hands up to 15 hands. (Anything higher is considered a “horse.”) 

It was at this point in life almost 30 years ago that McCarthy met Jamie Osborne, who was also jockeying ponies. A friendship developed and, after Osborne retired from riding, he asked McCarthy if he would work for him organizing the barn. One thing led to another and he ended up working with him, and McCarthy is Osborne’s assistant trainer with the responsibilities of 80 horses and his friend Toast of New York.

Toast of New York catching some air in his mane under Jimmy McCarthy. (Julie June Stewart photo)

He first saw Toast when he arrived as a yearling. “He was big and an insignificant thing.” He was the last yearling to be sold that year. He was pretty quiet but McCarthy noticed that Toast always led all the other babies. “He was quite sensible in that respect.” In April of his 2-year-old year, it was as if somebody flipped a switch and he started showing a bit of speed.  He ran in August as a 2-year-old at Leicester in 2013 and finished fifth. His second run was later that August at Kempton Park and he placed second. He broke his maiden at his third race in Wolverhampton in September and repeated with another win in November. 

McCarthy shakes his head when he remembers that he uncharacteristically made a comment to Osborne about Toast’s future. It’s not like him to “hype a horse,” but he thought that Toast could train for the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (which is a Group 1, flat horse race in Ireland open to 3-year-olds and considered an Irish classic race). “He is a Group 2 horse standing on his head!” This is when Osborne created the plan to take Toast to Dubai to race in the U.A.E. Derby at Meydan. “We trained him all winter for Dubai. Luckily enough, he won. And then he went to New York and ran in the Belmont [Derby Invitational Stakes].  He finished sixth. He ran alright but not as well as we hoped. Then he went to Del Mar and finished second to Shared Belief.” He went for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and he “split Bayern and California Chrome. The timing was good. It was a solid race.”

Toast was going to carry on as a 4-year-old and was scheduled to return to Dubai. Unfortunately, he sustained an injury and was retired to the breeding shed. But it wasn’t meant to be. In a rare move after covering 15 mares, his owner (Al Shaqab Racing) returned him to Osborne in 2016 to continue racing after he healed from his injury. 

You can see he is a stallion. (Julie June Stewart photo)

McCarthy went to the airport to pick him up. He was stallion heavy and completely out of shape. “So basically, we were starting with scratch all over again. We didn’t have a clue how far we could get.  We’ve done a lot of cantering. A lot of base work. We got to the end of August and we stepped up his work a bit. Faster works. Still there was no guarantee about anything. We got to the middle of October and we were looking for a chance to run him before the end of the year.” They entered him at Lingfield in December and he won! McCarthy allowed himself to remember the win for a microsecond and smiled while looking at the ground, saying softly under his breath “the achievement of getting him back.” 

What is it about Toast of New York that makes him unique? “Toast is different. It isn’t any one thing.  They all add up. He is just different in every way. He eats more than any horse I have ever had. He drinks more than anything else. He is faster than anything else. He has a great mind. He can cope with the travel and all. In so many different respects, he is completely different. But he does have a pop. He [sometimes] has a go to try to get you off. He’s an athlete. He can turn himself inside out. He does act up before the race. He just wants to get it done.” In other words, Toast is a real character who likes to misbehave before the race and then turns professional and enjoys the run.

Is it true that folks say he has three kids – two sons and Toast? Here is when McCarthy opens up his soul in a joyous smile. He has two twin boys, named Thomas and James (now 5 years old.) “They know all about Toast and his journey to Dubai as does my partner, Charlotte.” McCarthy beams and says with much love in his voice, “I couldn’t do what I do without her.”

Jimmy McCarthy and Toast of New York have quite a relationship. (Julie June Stewart photo)

What does it mean to McCarthy to have a horse come back after you have said goodbye? At this point McCarthy wrestles with a wave of emotion. He starts to talk, “Yeah, well it’s a …” and pauses. He searched the dirt underneath his feet for answers and finds none. He tried again. “A horse like that is not going to come around very often. A lot of people never come across something as unique as him in their entire life. Like I said to the kids in the yard.” He is so deep in thought that he doesn’t know that he has stopped in reflection. “You probably do not even realize how rare good horses of that caliber are. They are like hen’s teeth. They are not … nobody has the divine right to get one. If you get one, you are lucky and just hope that you can make the best of the opportunity when it does come along. It’s a little bit like unfinished business because …” McCarthy shakes his head in thought unable to complete his sentence and tries again. “Having him get injured in his 4-year-old career” and stops in silence. “Being able to prove how good he really was … . Horses like him are rare. And to have been involved with him and to have the chance to be on the journey all the way along. It’s been unreal.  It’s what gets me up out of bed in the morning.”

McCarthy knows that horses come and go. It’s the ritual of horse racing where a big horse retires and routinely goes to the breeding shed for a new career. But when one returns into your life, it’s an amazing opportunity to open your heart and dream for a new finish with a chance to rewrite history. Toast of New York’s unique personality has enriched everyone around him. Especially the man who considers him as his third son. It’s a wonderful world when one has the chance to greet an old friend and travel the world with him. As McCarthy steps into Toast’s stall, he quietly rearranges his forelock and rubs his neck. It’s the comfortable relationship of two old friends who have relied on each other for years. The journey is temporary but the love is forever. 

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