McDon­ald’s per­fect re­turn

The Press - - Sport - Mat Ker­meen mat.ker­meen@stuff.co.nz

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.’’

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