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At the age of five, Michael McCarthy moved to Arcadia, California, with his family. Their family home was near enough to Santa Anita to hear the races being called. Michael became smitten by the industry. His first job at Santa Anita was working for trainer John O’Hara. He worked at the track during the day while taking night classes at Cal Poly Pomona in animal husbandry. He also worked for veterinarian Dr. Wade Byrd and got handy with a stopwatch with help from Santa Anita clocker Gary Young.

Circa 1994, Michael spent four months at a training center in Japan as well as several months at The National Stud in England. After that, he worked as an intern in a variety of jobs, from breeding to training aspects of the racing business. Michael soaked up experience working for trainer Doug Peterson and was an assistant for Ben Cecil. 

In 2002, jockey agent Ron Anderson negotiated a meeting between Michael and Todd Pletcher, who was looking for someone to fill an assistant position when George Weaver decided to go out on his own. On August 25, 2002, Michael headed East to begin working for seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Pletcher (six of his Eclipse awards came while Michael was working for Todd). He started as a foreman, before Todd gave Michael an assistant position. He oversaw the Pletcher strings primarily in the Midwest and in California, before spending his final two years with Todd in New York. Over the years, Michael and Todd developed a mutual respect for one another. McCarthy on Pletcher: “He taught me dedication; total dedication. He leads by example. He’s there from sunrise to sundown. He’s special.” Pletcher on McCarthy: “Michael was a top-class assistant and I’m not surprised that he’s succeeding now that he has his own stable.” 

Michael married his grade school classmate, Erin McNamara, in 2009 and their daughter, Stella, was born in 2010. Erin’s work kept her in Southern California, while most of Michael's work with Pletcher kept him in Florida, Kentucky, and New York. So, after serving as an assistant to Pletcher for over 11 years, Michael decided to head back 'home' and go out on his own in January 2014. 

Starting with a single horse provided to him by Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Michael steadily built a new world and a new business for himself and his family. In 2014, he won just over $200,000 in purses, including his first graded stakes with No Problem in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) at Del Mar. In 2015, he doubled that amount. 

In 2016, he did the double once more, with over $850,000 in purse earnings. He also scored his first G1 victory with Illuminant in 2016, while teaming up with owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners to win the Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita Park. 

2017 brought the McCarthy barn a couple more graded stakes victories. Illuminant won the Monrovia Stakes (G2) and City of Light capped off the year with a win in the Malibu Stakes (G1) on opening day at Santa Anita Park. His purse earnings in 2018 topped $1.3M. 

2018 was a breakout year for Michael, as he trained several standouts and won eight graded stakes (Axelrod (2), City of Light (3), Liam the Charmer, Paved, and The Lieutenant), culminating with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs with City of Light. In 2018, Michael’s earnings soared to almost $4M and he started five horses in the Breeders’ Cup.

City of Light went on to win his final start in January of 2019, when he delivered a dominant, runaway victory in the $9M Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) at Gulfstream Park. City of Light retired to begin his stud career at Lane's End with over $5.6M in career earnings. In addition to City of Light’s Pegasus World Cup victory,  Michael had other graded stakes winners in 2019, including Ohio (BRZ) and Smooth Like Strait. Michael’s purse earnings in 2019 totalled over $5.38M

2020 brought seven graded stakes victories to the McCarthy barn, including three G1s (Ce Ce (2) and Speech). Other graded stakes winners in the barn were Rushie and Smooth Like Strait (3). Michael exceeded $3.6M in purse earnings and also started training a string of horses in Kentucky in 2020.

Michael earned his first career Triple Crown race win in the G1 Preakness Stakes with Rombauer on May 15, 2021. Rombauer won the El Camino Real Derby and skipped the Kentucky Derby to prepare for the Preakness.  

2021 also brought Michael his second Breeders’ Cup victory, when Ce Ce defeated heavily favored Gamine in the Filly & Mare Sprint at Del Mar.

2021 was Michael’s best year yet. He had nine graded stakes victories, including four G1s with four different horses (Ce Ce, Queen Goddess, Rombauer and Smooth Like Strait). Other graded stakes winners were Independence Hall, Law Professor and Sanenus (CHI). He had 376 starts, won 61 races and his horses earned almost $7M in purses. Michael ranked 20th amongst all trainers in North America in earnings in 2021.

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