The experienced jockey and the 7-year-old gelding never quite clicked in their previous races together, but that all changed Saturday in the 17th annual Aiken Fall Steeplechase.
With McCarron following instructions, Prep School came from behind to win the featured Southern Bank & Trust Holiday Cup at Ford Conger Field.
"I've ridden Prep School a few times and he showed me a lot of potential last year in Saratoga," McCarron said.
After being sidelined by an injury, Prep School's comeback was less than stellar.
So Danielle Hodsdon, one of the top jockeys for Prep School trainer Jonathan Sheppard, gave McCarron some advice and he "tried to follow them as best I could."
"She said to drop my irons a couple of holes and ride him like a girl," McCarron said. "He obviously responded well to it and jumped great. He fought his way to the wire and persevered."
Sunshine Numbers, ridden by Jody Petty, took the lead in the Holiday Cup from the beginning and held it almost to the end of the 21/4-mile race over national fences. But Sunshine Numbers fell off the pace with three jumps left, and the race turned into a battle between Prep School and London Grove.
Also a factor, but not officially in the race, was Second Approval. The horse lost its rider, James Slater, early in the race but still managed to run around the track with the leaders.
"My horse and London Grove fought tooth and nail to the last," McCarron said. "The loose horse came past my horse and inspired him and gave him a target to run at, and he inched away from the other horse."
Prep School took the lead for good between the penultimate and final jumps, then held on to win at the wire.
Behind the duel for first place, tragedy struck when Fiscal Storm fell on the final jump. Race official Ivor Stoddard said Fiscal Storm broke his neck and died on the track. Jockey William Dowling was cleared by race officials to ride again shortly after the incident.
McCarron was the only jockey to win multiple races Saturday. He rode Mr. J.T.L. to victory in the second race of the day, The Cathedral Aisle. The 37-year-old jockey is no stranger to success in meets in Aiken, and he is consistently among the top riders in the National Steeplechase Association.
"Touch wood, it's been very good to me," McCarron said of Aiken.
"I think I've won the stake here four times in the spring and have had a lot of good success in the fall."
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
STEEPLECHASE RACE RESULTS
THE BUDWEISER CUP (Maiden hurdle, $15,000 purse, 22 miles over fences)
Winners: 1. Miss Crown, Kate Dalton (owner), Kate Dalton (trainer), Bernard Dalton (jockey), 4:30.3; 2. Seeking No More; 3. Questioning
THE CATHEDRAL AISLE (Maiden hurdle, $10,000 purse, 22 miles over fences)
WINNERS: 1. Mr. J.T.L., Timber Bay Farm (owner), Jonathan Sheppard (trainer), Matt McCarron (jockey), 4:31.2 ; 2. Reigning Count, 3; Night Ruckus
THE JUAC HOLLOW (Hurdle, $15,000 purse, 22 miles over fences)
WINNERS: 1. Slip Away, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey (owners), Thomas H. Voss (trainer), Padge Whelan (jockey), 4:20.2; 2. Swimming River; 3. Pals Pride
THE SOUTHERN BANK AND TRUST HOLIDAY CUP (Hurdle, $25,000 purse, 22 miles over fences)
WINNERS: 1. Prep School, Timber Bay Farm (owner), Jonathan Sheppard (trainer), Matt McCarron (jockey), 4:21.3 ; 2. London Grove; 3. Charismic American
THE TWILIGHT (Flat race, 13 miles on the turf)
WINNERS: 1. Cripple Creek, Gregory D. Hawkins (owner), Janet Elliot (trainer), Paddy Young (jockey), 1:29.3 ; 2. Say What You See; 3. Bounding Cat