Berry in right form to chase McDonald
SYDNEY’S leading jockeys James McDonald and Tommy Berry will continue their premiership duel at Rosehill Gardens today.
McDonald has a full book of nine rides, eight of which are at single-figure odds, as he tries to add to the 45 city wins so far this season that have him a clear premiership leader.
Berry, who has seven rides at today’s meeting, is second in the premiership rankings on 27 wins.
His strike rate of winners to rides is 17.3 per cent, which is second only to McDonald’s outstanding 24.3.
Although Berry has an ambition to win a Sydney premiership, he concedes the 2018-19 season is now McDonald’s to lose.
“I have always wanted to win the premiership,’’ Berry said.
“I would never say it is too hard but James is on a roll at the moment and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. “He is in a great vein of form.’’ Berry is in his first season back in Sydney racing after spending more than a year in Hong Kong and conceded he was surprised to find himself in second placing on the premiership rankings.
“I didn’t expect to get the support I’ve received so far in Sydney since I was away for that long,’’ he said.
“But I’ve worked really hard to get that support, I ride plenty of work and if you ride a few winners, you get that momentum going.
“I would love to stay top five this season, that would be nice, but I know there is a great bunch of jockeys in Sydney. There’s James, Hugh (Bowman) and Kerrin (McEvoy), and a lot of top jockeys up with them.’’
Berry said he was enjoying Sydney racing’s hectic schedule where he often rides at five meetings a week and at trackwork most days.
“When I was in Hong Kong, I thought riding twice a week would be good because I could spend more time with my family, which I did,’’ Berry said.
“But I Iove to ride and I love horses. That is why I got into this industry in the first place, so I actually missed the grind of Sydney racing.
“I also see how happy my wife and kids are to be back home and I think that shows in my riding, too.’’
Berry is hoping he can edge closer to McDonald in the premiership race with some very good mounts — including promising three-year-old Baller, the $2.90 TAB Fixed Odds favourite for the 2019 Membership Handicap (1400m).
The Anthony and Edward Cummings-trained Baller has won two of his three starts, including a brilliant effort at Randwick’s Kensington meeting last start when Berry rode the colt for the first time.
“Baller is a lovely three-year-old with great presence and a great attitude,’’ Berry said.
“I rode him Tuesday morning in trackwork with Sky Boy, they worked together, and he has definitely trained on since his last-start win.
“I would look to press forward early to find a spot then get him to switch off so he runs out a strong 1400m, which I’m confident he will do.
“He’s an exciting colt. I feel he is my best ride of the day.’’
Berry also reunites with another laststart winner Single Bullet in the Merry Christmas ATC Members Handicap (1100m).
Single Bullet, rated at $7.50 behind $5 co-favourites Coruscate and Bon Amis, returned to winning form with a fast-finishing effort at Randwick over 1000m last month.
“I think we might have found the way to ride him — switch him off, ride him quiet and give him one last crack at them so he doesn’t have time to think about it,’’ Berry said. “He has drawn an awkward barrier (11) but that doesn’t worry me too much as I will take him back early and let him unwind late.
“I would be more confident if this race was at Randwick as Rosehill is a bit more tricky for him.
“But I will cover him up early then give him one last crack at them — if he is good enough he will run them down.’’
Berry is hoping for better luck on Asterius when the grey-brown gelding contests the Christmas At The Gardens Handicap (1500m).
Asterius resumed with an eighth to Sweet Deal over 1300m at Rosehill Gardens three weeks ago.
The gelding came from last on the turn, charged through the field only to run out of galloping room over the final 150m and be beaten just 1.8 lengths.
“He showed a really good turn of foot first up,’’ Berry said. “He’s had a few weeks between runs and I’m confident he will run well.
“We’ve drawn a good barrier (four) and I hope to settle a bit closer. I think he is definitely the horse to beat.’’
Berry’s other rides include the Team Hawkes-trained Kilmacurragh, who is resuming in the ATC Tipping Competition Handicap (1400m).
Kilmacurragh is raced by Rupert Legh of Chautauqua fame, which means Berry will get to wear the owner’s famous racing colours of navy blue with a gold lightning bolt on his chest.
“It will be great to wear those colours again,’’ said Berry, who rode Chautauqua to some of the champion sprinter’s greatest wins. “I’ve never ridden Kilmacurragh, I’ve never even seen him.
“But when the Hawkes stable bring them up from their Melbourne stables they usually race very well in Sydney.’’
James McDonald (left) and Tommy Berry both have strong books of rides at Rosehill Gardens this afternoon.