McDonald’s perfect return
For 18 months, James McDonald wasn’t even allowed at the track on race day.
But the Kiwi jockey, who was banned for betting, has taken just over 84 seconds to record his first win since his 18-month disqualification expired.
McDonald made his return to the saddle at Warwick Farm, in Western Sydney, yesterday and was victorious in the opening race on the card.
McDonald, a two-time Sydney premiership winner, rode Cormac – trained by ex-pat Kiwi trainer Chris Waller – to a tight victory.
McDonald and Cormac, a $1.70 favourite, eventually fought off the challenge of Smiling Manolito and Kerrin McEvoy to win by a head.
The maiden race, over 1400m, was a world away from the 30 Group I races McDonald has won but it would likely go down as one of his most satisfying wins.
‘‘It’s nice to get that one over and done with, even if I’d lost, just to get out there was good,’’ McDonald said. ‘‘My legs are a bit jelly, I didn’t need a tight finish to start off the day.’’
McDonald went on to pick up placings in races two (Tarka) and three (Tinkermosa) before he scored his second victory aboard Monasterio, also trained by Waller, in race five.
McDonald, 26, was New Zealand’s leading jockey when he shifted across the Tasman in 2012 and before his disqualification was the top rider in Sydney for the Australian arm of global racing powerhouse Godolphin.
At the time of his disqualification, McDonald was widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s highest paid sports personalities and was estimated to earn between $1 million and $2 million a year, depending on race results.
McDonald, via a punter friend Anthony Gardiner, placed a $1000 bet on Astern before he rode the horse to victory in a two-year-old race at Randwick in December 2015.
Astern, who was on debut, won the race and McDonald banked $3000.
But when stewards became aware of the bet, McDonald’s fate was sealed.
The wager cost him millions in lost income and legal fees and then there was the damage to his reputation and the stress of going through the 18-month disqualification.
‘‘It was lack of concentration or a lack of looking at the winning post, a lack of judgement. I wasn’t really thinking about the rule when I had the bet. It just happened and I wasn’t thinking about the rule,’’ McDonald said last week.
‘‘Once you have the bet, it’s all over red rover. I had to own it.’’