James McDonald. Photo: Steve Hart

James McDonald enters the Hall of Fame

23rd December 2020

Premier Sydney jockey James McDonald is to be honoured in his home country where he will become the youngest person inducted to the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame.

The 27-year-old, who will be inducted in early May, will join 16 other jockeys in the NZ Hall of Fame.

“I couldn’t believe it when I got the call. It’s a huge honour and I still get goose-bumps just talking about it,” McDonald told NZ Racing Desk.

“To think I’m joining great jockeys like Lance O’Sullivan, Jim Cassidy, Noel Harris and Shane Dye. These are the guys whose photos I had on the wall when I was a boy.”

McDonald began riding as a 15-year-old and was quickly NZ’s champion apprentice followed by a record season in 2010/11 when he claimed the premiership with 207 wins in his fourth season.

He was lured to Australia by trainer John O’Shea and won his first Sydney title on 2013/14 in a season which featured the Golden Slipper on Mossfun, Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Dundeel, Australian Oaks on Rising Romance, and Caulfield Guineas on Shooting To Win.

McDonald became Godolphin’s stable rider when O’Shea was the head trainer but things went sour when he was found guilty of betting on a horse he was riding.

In late 2015 he was outed for 18 months for the offence but the ban strengthened his resolve and his relationship with now-retired jockey Katelyn Mallyon.

“I made the most of the time away to refresh my approach and came back determined, definitely stronger,” McDonald said.

“What happened to me was a learning curve for not only me but a lot of people, many of them my peers who saw what could happen if you broke the rules.

“I had no negativity against the stewards, after all they were only doing their job, and even though I thought it was harsh at the time, I had to pay the price.”

The next chapter in McDonald’s career is what sealed his status.

“From the time I came back in May last year I worked on every aspect of my riding, ” he said.

“I was determined to make it work – my weight, fitness, connection with trainers – and by the start of the new season I was ready to hum.”

Champion trainer Chris Waller was integral to McDonald’s comeback, when the jockey claimed his third Sydney premiership and made the most of his opportunities, including a crucial Caulfield Guineas victory on the Waller-trained The Autumn Sun.

“I was riding plenty of winners but a bunch of seconds in Group Is were frustrating, so to get that win for Chris and everyone else involved with The Autumn Sun was huge,” he said.

“I had only been back a short time. He was the short-priced favourite and a high-profile colt that Arrowfield had just bought into, so there was only one option – win.

“Then to top 100 wins in Sydney for my third premiership, it was the best possible outcome and a testament to the people I have around me.”

McDonald will spend Christmas with his family in New Zealand before riding at the Ellerslie carnival.

After early favourite Supera suffered an injury ahead of the Group One Zabeel Classic, McDonald will now ride the Murray Baker/Andrew Forsman-trained True Enough in the Boxing Day feature,.

On New Year’s Day his rides include Queensland mare Winter Bride in the Railway.