Leading Sydney jockey James McDonald made a fleeting visit back to his homeland on Thursday to ride at Te Aroha, a track that holds some great memories for the expat Kiwi.
“I haven’t ridden in New Zealand for probably three years, so it’s good to be back here,” McDonald said.
“It’s not a high-profile meeting, but it’s good to put the colours back on and get amongst the boys. I haven’t seen them for a fair while, so it’s really good.
“I can’t remember the last time I rode at Te Aroha. I remember it was my first Group One here, so it’s got good memories for me.”
That win came in the form of the Peter McKay-trained Special Mission in the Gr.1 New Zealand Bloodstock Breeders’ Stakes (1600m) in 2008.
McDonald also rode the first Group One winner for trainer Steven Ramsay (Guiseppina in the Gr.1 Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham in 2012), who he said was one of the main reasons for his return on Thursday.
“Steven said he would have quite a few runners today and he said they were pretty good chances,” McDonald said.
“It’s always good to come back and see him. I haven’t been in the country for about a year since my disqualification and it’s always great to come and see him and put these (Pencarrow Stud) colours on.
“It’s well documented that Sir Peter Vela has been a great supporter of mine. It’s always good to come back and ride for him.”
Ramsay, who trains in partnership with Julia Ritchie, proved astute in his assessment with the combination taking out the first two races on the card with Naval Fleet and Maison Roxanne.
It was redemption for Naval Fleet who jumped the rail and lost rider Samantha Collett when she looked a certain winner a hundred metres out from home at Hastings last month.
“Steven’s a top bloke, a good trainer and had them cherry ripe today,” McDonald said. “They were basically sit and steer jobs, but it was good to be the pilot on them.
“Naval Fleet was really good, she stayed nice and straight and got the job done.
“She probably wasn’t put under a lot of pressure and she came away from them late, so it was a good effort. I think she has got a bright future when she stretches out a bit further.”
McDonald said he is looking forward to returning to New Zealand later this month to partner Maison Roxanne on Karaka Million night.
“She is a beautiful filly,” he said. “She’s got a lot to learn still, but she has got a bit of presence and substance there, which will take her a long way.
“I think she has got a lot of ability and hopefully she can measure up on Karaka Million night.”
McDonald is also looking forward to riding the Sir Peter Vela part-owned Long Leaf in the rich Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) that night.
“I think I have got a good ride for Sir Peter Vela in the Karaka Million mile in Longleaf, trained by David Hayes, so I’m looking forward to him coming over,” he said.
McDonald capped off a successful day at Te Aroha by taking out the Coastwood Homes Lockwood Thames Cup (1600m) aboard the Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman-trained True Enough.
McDonald rode Dundeel to six Group One victories for Baker and said it was great to get another win for the Cambridge trainer.
“He threw me a bone today, that was nice of him,” McDonald said. “ It’s good to repay the favour with a winner.
“He’s (True Enough) a strong competitor, he was out in front and bowled along pretty well. I had to push him the whole way, but he’s a nice horse, has a high cruising speed and that won’t be his last (win).”
McDonald said he has enjoyed his quick visit to New Zealand, a place he said was instrumental in his development as a rider.
“It was good to see my family yesterday,” he said. “I went to see my Nana who I haven’t seen for a while. It’s an in and out trip, but it’s good to be home.
“It’s a great country to learn your craft, it was good for me. A lot of these trainers give you a good opportunity to succeed. If you take that with both hands you’ll come a long way.”