James McDonald comes to Hong Kong riding the crest of a wave



Just in case there was someone left – somewhere – who needed a reminder that James McDonald is one of modern racing’s greats, the week of October 30 to November 6 proved that notion as fact, yet again.


The Kiwi jockey came into this year’s Melbourne Cup Carnival an established star. When the dust settled by its end, he’d simply gone ballistic. The 29-year-old collected a record 10 wins in total, among them four Group Ones which included the grandaddy of them all – the Melbourne Cup with Very Elleegant.


“Absolutely a dream come true,” says McDonald. “It really just couldn’t have gone any better, to obviously win a Melbourne Cup and have four Group Ones within the space of five days was pretty cool. And yeah, hopefully now the momentum carries on.”


The Hong Kong Jockey Club was quick to swoop, signing McDonald for this year’s International Jockeys’ Championship (IJC) and giving him a global platform to further showcase his talents come Wednesday night at Happy Valley.


The New Zealand Racing Hall of Famer will be joined on the flight into town by Australia’s Damian Lane and they’ll line-up against a local contingent led by Zac Purton and Joao Moreira, along with other internationals including the British trio of Ryan Moore, Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle, France’s Mickael Barzalona and Yuga Kawada from Japan.


Even for a race that has thrown up so much drama over 161 editions, this Melbourne Cup was one for the ages as Very Elleegant emerged from the pack about 400m out, hit the lead at the 300m and then just kept on improving.


It was McDonald’s first win in the race that, they say, stops a nation – if not the racing world – and it was the consummate display of a jockey with absolute faith in the engine driving the beats beneath him. And to think she went out at 20s here in Hong Kong.


“She was in a great rhythm all the way, so I knew all along she was going to have a chance,” he says. “And from about the 400m she was never going to get beat. She executed brilliantly and she was a nine-time Group One winner going in. There wasn’t any horse near her calibre.