In-form Kiwi James McDonald has sights set on Hong Kong features
By Daryl Timms
New Zealander James McDonald is on a two-pronged mission after arriving in Hong Kong following riding stints in Sydney as possibly the most in-form jockey in the world.
The expatriate New Zealander, now based in Sydney, started a five-week riding contract in Hong Kong last Sunday (26 November) and hit the ground running when he produced a winner with his first ride on Wunderbar in the Class 4 Chevalier Lifts & Escalators Handicap (1000m) for John Size.
And five races later he booted home long-shot winner, The Golden Scenery, for Tony Cruz in the Class 1 Chevalier Cup Handicap (1600m).
McDonald, who was awarded the 2022 LONGINES World’s Best Jockey, will represent his native New Zealand in the 2023 LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship (IJC) at Happy Valley on Wednesday, 6 December.
Keen to win the Championship after coming close in previous contests at Happy Valley, the 31-year-old is determined to ride as many winners as he can while on his short-term contract in Hong Kong and will again be reunited with Romantic Warrior in the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m), a race he combined to win with the gelding last December.
McDonald, known to racing fans as ‘J-Mac’, hit the headlines when he rode the Danny Shum-trained Romantic Warrior to a fighting victory in the G1 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley in October.
Now with 86 Group 1 victories, Romantic Warrior was one of the seven victories at the highest level that McDonald bagged during the recent Australian Spring Carnival. Two were in Sydney and the other five in Melbourne.
With a winning strike rate of 26 per cent from his last 50 rides in Australia, McDonald said he was looking forward to riding in the ultra-competitive Hong Kong jurisdiction.
“I’m heading to Hong Kong with my tail up, that’s for sure,” he said before landing in Hong Kong.
“It will be a challenge and I’m very grateful for the Club to allow me to be there for five weeks.
“To be fair, it all blended in beautifully because I was going to be over there for two weeks for the International Races but I was lucky enough to be able to stay on for the New Year.”
Having the opportunity to ride against some of the world and Hong Kong’s best riders in the LONGINES IJC is a challenge that McDonald is excited about.
He said it was a unique concept.
“It’s brilliant, a fantastic night, a great atmosphere and unique,” McDonald said.
“The Club puts a brilliant show on and it’s a great fun when you ever get an opportunity to ride in it.’’
After being runner-up in the Championship twice and third once, McDonald says he knows how hard it is to win but this time is hoping for a change of luck.
And what really excites McDonald is being reunited with Romantic Warrior in the LONGINES Hong Kong Cup (2000m) at the HK$118 million LONGINES Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) at Sha Tin on Sunday, 10 December.
“I had great fun with him down in Australia and was afford the opportunity to ride him several times through trackwork and twice at the races and it was really good fun,” he said.
“And to get a result in the Cox Plate was brilliant.
“Now he has probably got the biggest task ahead to defend his title in the Hong Kong Cup which would be a huge honour if we can get the job done.
“He is a great horse and I’m very proud of him and he wears his heart on his sleeve and he gives his all every time and you never die wondering with him as he is a brilliant, brilliant animal.”
He said a lot of credit must go to Shum and Romantic Warrior’s owner Mr Peter Lau to have the courage take the best horse out of Hong Kong to win arguably Australia’s greatest weight-for-age race.
McDonald has been joined in Hong Kong by his fiancée, former jockey and Group 1 winner Katelyn Mallyon and their one-year-old daughter, Evie.
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