Fresh from a treble on Boxing Day, champion Sydney-based jockey James McDonald is eager to return to Ellerslie on New Year’s Day with further black type success in his sights. McDonald took his Group 1 record to 44 when successful on True Enough in the Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic (2000m) after winning earlier in the day on the unbeaten Only In Jakarta and Jennifer Eccles in the Group 2 Skycity Eight Carat Classic (1600m).
On Boxing Day McDonald also got his first feel of Winter Bride, the Gold Coast visitor he will ride in the Group 1 Sistema Railway (1200m) on Wednesday for trainers Toby and Trent Edmonds. “She felt terrific,” McDonald said. “She worked over 800m and it was pretty slick work. And most of all, she pulled up really well. “It was the first time I’d sat on her and she’s your typical big Australian sprinter, very strong.”
McDonald has ridden against Winter Bride on five occasions and been beaten by her three times, including the Group 3 Wenona Girl Quality (1200m) at Randwick last March and the Group 3 Northwood Plume Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield five months earlier. McDonald’s most recent clash with Winter Bride came in the Group 1 Moir Stakes (1000m), which he won on Nature Strip at Moonee Valley in September.
Although Winter Bride beat just two home in the $A1 million event, McDonald has taken some encouragement from the mare’s effort. “She was only four lengths off Nature Strip so her form is better than it looks,” he said. “If she is not in the first three in the Railway I’ll be very surprised and disappointed. “I’d have preferred a better gate (than 11) with her, but she jumps extra quick so I can race her wherever.”
A winner of nine of 24 starts with earnings of more than $612,000, Winter Bride was third to the Tony Pike-trained Bostonian in the Listed Daybreak Lover (1200m) at the Sunshine Coast last year and went on to win her next four races, the last two Group 3 events at Caulfield. She was also three times placed at Group 2 level and ran a quiet third over 1010m at the Ballina trials since her latest outing, a seventh in the Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m).
McDonald would love to record a Group 1 win for Winter Bride’s owner, Kevin Maloney, who races under the Segenhoe Thoroughbred Australia Pty Ltd banner and has owned Segenhoe Stud since 2010. “When I first went to Sydney to ride for John O’Shea, Kevin had horses with John and I rode plenty of them,” McDonald said. “Actually it was Bill Mitchell, Kevin’s racing manager (and a former leading Sydney trainer), who asked me to ride Winter Bride.”
McDonald said Winter Bride isn’t the only reason he is excited about Ellerslie on Wednesday. “I’m really looking forward to riding four horses,” McDonald said. “Obviously Winter Bride is one of them. The others are Dragon Leap, Play That Song and Lilikoi. “I’m most looking forward to getting on Dragon Leap. I’ve watched his videos and I love the way he goes.”
An acceptor in the Group 2 Jamieson Park Auckland Guineas (1600m), Dragon Leap won impressively on debut over 1400m at Te Rapa on October 28 then was unlucky not to also win his other start, the Listed Trevor Eagle Memorial 3YO (1500m) at Ellerslie a month later. He finished second, a short neck from Two Illicit, and cost himself victory by running around over the final stages.
The unbeaten Play That Song will put her record on the line in the Group 2 Barneswood Farm Eclipse Stakes (1200m). She won her debut at Ruakaka in early October and later that month won her other start, the Listed Wellesley Stakes (1000m) on a Heavy11 track at Trentham. “Her last win was great in heavy ground at Wellington,” McDonald said. “I liked the way she got to the line.”
McDonald will ride the Sir Peter Vela-bred and owned Lilikoi in the Group 2 Valachi Downs Royal Stakes (2000m). “She is jumping from a good barrier (three) and I’d love to win another good race for Sir Peter,” McDonald said. Lilikoi has improved with each of her six starts and notched her second win last start when decisively taking the Group 3 Eulogy Stakes (1600m) at Awapuni.
McDonald’s other black-type ride is last season’s Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) winner Sentimental Miss in the Group 3 SkyCity City of Auckland Cup (2400m) for Awapuni trainer Lisa Latta. Sentimental Miss returned to top form in the Listed Wanganui Cup (2040m) last start, her first win since the Oaks.
McDonald will also ride two-race winner Vichy for Sir Peter Vela in the final event, the Barfoot and Thompson R72 1600m, and completing his book of seven mounts is Paisley Park, the topweight in the Dunstan Feeds Stayers Championship Final (2400m) and a last-start second over 2200m at Ellerslie and runner-up in the Listed Matamata Cup (1600m) three starts earlier.
McDonald will fly home on Wednesday evening and following a couple of days in Sydney he will head to the Gold Coast for the Magic Millions meeting. “I haven’t locked one in yet for the Magic Millions 2YO, but will ride Dubious in the Magic Millions 3YO and I’ve got a handful of rides for Chris (Waller),” he said.