“J. Mac is back” came the call from race commentator Darren Flindell as Cormac (by All Too Hard) crossed the line first to land the opening event of Sydney’s midweek meeting at Warwick Farm. Of course, reference was being made to the successful comeback to race riding of champion jockey James McDonald following an 18-month disqualification from the track.
One of a half-dozen mounts for his reappearance to domestic racing, McDonald turned in an astute performance to steer Cormac to victory in the $40,000, TAB Handicap (1400m) for 3-year-olds.
One of three runners saddled-up by Chris Waller in the 5-horse event, Cormac required all of McDonald’s well-honed tactical awareness in order to record his maiden victory after Kerrin McEvoy turned in a wily front-running ride aboard Smiling Manolito (by High Chaparral) and almost spoiled the party.
In the end however, McDonald just managed to squeeze enough determination out of Cormac to score by a head at the very skinny odds of $1.75 favourite.
Speaking immediately after his narrow success, McDonald confessed: “Well, my legs are a bit jelly. I didn’t need a tight finish to start off today.”
Asked about his time away from the track after being found guilty of placing a winning bet on Astern when the retained stable rider for Godolphin, McDonald replied: “It’s been well documented over the last week how much I have matured and hopefully this is the start of bigger and better things. You’ve got to move on and this is a good starting point.”
McDonald added: “My family made the trip over from New Zealand and my girlfriend Katelyn [Mallyon] is here, and my best mate… so it’s really good.”
In what was always going to prove a momentous day for the exceptional young hoop, McDonald again teamed-up with Chris Waller later in the same afternoon to win Race 5 aboard Monasterio (by Savabeel) — one of four starters in the contest for the multiple Premiership winning trainer.
Besides Waller, David Payne, John Sargent and John O’Shea were other Sydney-based trainers to supply McDonald with mounts on his first day back in the saddle as a freelance jockey.
In addition, the likes of Peter & Paul Snowden, Gerald Ryan and Matthew Dunn have also already booked McDonald for rides at Sydney’s metropolitan Rosehill Gardens program this coming Saturday in what amounts to a clear show of support for the universally acclaimed riding talent.