J-Mac pushed to the limit
Zaaki makes it tough for gun hoop
James McDonald had the golden touch at Sha Tin six days earlier, but was forced to do it the hard way at the Sunshine Coast on Saturday when he fended off a wall of challengers to win the Group 2 Hollindale Stakes aboard Zaaki.
In a day where not much went right for McDonald, he was forced to throw the prerace plan out the window when the $10m stakes earner stepped slowly.
McDonald was the toast of Hong Kong last Sunday after a perfect ride aboard Romantic Warrior in the QE II Cup, but even trainer Annabel Neasham admits she was surprised to see him posted wide without cover aboard her superstar on Saturday.
“It’s not often you see James four-wide without cover,” Neasham laughed post race.
“To be fair, the horse just wasn’t away quickly enough.”
In an unusually tough day, McDonald was staring at a run of outs after missing the start aboard Influential in the Ken Russell Memorial and getting posted wide on Tycoon Evie in the Silk Stocking.
With “bullets flying everywhere” early in the Hollindale, many thought McDonald would be resigned to a similar fate aboard Zaaki ($1.60), however class prevailed, holding off Huetor and Zeyrek in a slog up the straight.
“I felt like bullets were being fired everywhere around me during the start of the race,” he said. “Fortunately it worked out OK in the end, mainly because he’s a superior racehorse.
“There wasn’t any point in the race that I thought things were going to plan, but he got me out of trouble.
“The big track definitely helped us today, and it helped that the barrier allowed me to do my own thing.
“If we’d been drawn inside it would’ve been much tougher to take up a spot. It helped when Just Folk put the handbrake on a furlong out, which enabled us to flow into the race. That was the key moment.”
After making his name in the race three years ago, Zaaki became the first horse to win the Hollindale Stakes on three occasions.
Bookmakers trimmed his Doomben Cup quote into $2, where he is favoured to grab the $200,000 ‘Zaaki bonus’ awarded to any horse that can do the Hollindale Stakes – Doomben Cup double.
Runner-up Huetor moved from $15 into $11 for the Doomben Cup.
Neasham will look to win her ninth Group 1 in a fortnight’s time in the Doomben Cup, after Zaaki was shot down in the race 12 months ago when it was moved to Eagle Farm due to wet weather.
“He’s been a pin-up horse for me,” she said.