The year of James McDonald

1 December 2022 Written by Michael Sharkie

James McDonald proved unstoppable once again in 2022, and among his many achievements, was recently announced the winner of the 2022 Longines World’s Best Jockey competition. Leading the standings for most of the year, he claimed the title with nine qualifying wins on five different horses.

If James McDonald thought he was busy before the 2022 Melbourne Cup Carnival, he will have to find a new word to describe his life post another remarkable Melbourne spring. The reigning 2021 Melbourne Cup Carnival Ron Hutchison Award winner rolled into Flemington this spring with a swag of Group 1 wins already in the bag, including a Guineas brace at Caulfield with Golden Mile and Madame Pommery and the Cox Plate with Anamoe, but his trophy cabinet and outlook only got brighter come weeks end.

And then came McDonald’s biggest result of all: the safe arrival of his first child, daughter Evie with partner and former Group 1-winning jockey Katelyn Mallyon.

“She’s great, she’s amazing really,” said McDonald of his daughter.

“Katelyn was booked in for a caesarean on November the seventh, but Evie had other ideas and decided to arrive by herself on the sixth. She’s obviously tuned into the family business and waited for Dad to finish the carnival. She timed it just right.” he joked.

It was a case of business as usual on the track for McDonald at Flemington in the lead-up to the birth. He finished Cup Week as the leading rider for the second year straight with eight wins, two short of his record-breaking benchmark of 10 in 2021. He also teamed up with star filly In Secret to provide one of the most electrifying wins of the week in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes.

“She would have to be one of the most exciting horses in the country, she’s an absolute machine of a sprinter,” he said.

“I think I rode her in her very first trial and she always felt like a nice horse. She had been going well on wet tracks but as soon as she got on top of the ground at Flemington, well we all saw what she can really do. Godolphin has some lofty goals for her next year, I can’t wait.”

In Secret was part of a four-timer from McDonald on Penfolds Victoria Derby Day, with Archer Stakes winner Surefire, Wakeful Stakes winner Zennzella and Linlithgow Stakes winner Old Flame completing a memorable day.

Not everything went according to plan during the Cup Carnival however, with superstars Nature Strip and Anamoe both a little off their game when beaten on TAB Champions Stakes Day.

“It would have been great to get those two home. Nature Strip has been such a great horse for me and he is a phenomenal sprinter, but a busy year just took its toll,” he explained.

“Anamoe had been amazing all spring, four Group 1 wins, how much better can it get? He’s a special horse and it’s so much more meaningful for a jockey to establish a long relationship with a good horse. I’ve worked with him since his two-year-old career.”

Anamoe was the headline act of TAB Champions Stakes Day when sent out as favourite in the TAB Champions Stakes, ultimately won by warhorse Zaaki. Although beaten, the Godolphin star lost nothing in the eyes of his jockey.

“It happens, they can’t win all the time as much as we’d like them to. It’s just a joy to work with Anamoe and those 15 minutes at track work once a week are almost more enjoyable than race day. There’s no pressure or intensity, it’s just me and the horse and I really get to appreciate just how special he is.” 

Big race success and his own superstar status means moments to take a breath during peak season are often few and far between; everyone wants a piece of James McDonald when the spotlight shines in spring.

“You can’t say yes to everything … as much as you want to, you just can’t,” he explained.

“Mentally it can get bloody draining, you have to put that time aside to mentally and physically prepare for the actual job on race day. Studying the form, doing replay work, keeping the fitness up. I moved to Melbourne for about a month this spring and I have a great set up where I can replicate my normal routine. This is the carnival that Guesty (manager Mark Guest) and I plan for all year, you have to be mentally and physically spot on.”

McDonald is looking forward to the new year through a new lens as a father, but his newfound responsibilities haven’t quelled his competitive spirit. If anything, his young family may well inspire him to greater heights in 2023.

What does it mean to be Longines World’s Best Jockey?

New Zealand-born McDonald is the second Australian-based rider to win the Longines World’s Best Jockey Award, following Hugh Bowman’s efforts in 2017.

In 2022, McDonald won nine of the world’s Top 100 Group or Grade 1 races aboard five different horses. His qualifying victories came in the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes (Home Affairs), TAB Chipping Norton Stakes (Verry Elleegant), Sky Racing Active Rosehill Guineas (Anamoe), Furphy T J Smith Stakes (Nature Strip), Schweppes All Aged Stakes (Cascadian), Winx Stakes (Anamoe), Fujitsu General George Main Stakes (Anamoe), Neds Might And Power Stakes (Anamoe), and Ladbrokes Cox Plate (Anamoe).

Finishing third in the 2021 competition, McDonald won this year’s award by an impressive margin of 46 points. The scoring process rewards jockeys for finishing in the top three, giving McDonald a total of 142 points on the year. Ryan Moore, who has won the Longines World’s Best Jockey title three times, finished second with 96 points, while William Buick was third with 78 points.

The awarding of the Longines World’s Best Jockey title is based upon performances in the 100 highest-rated Group 1 and Grade 1 races as established for the year by the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings Committee. The scoring incorporates races from 1 December of the previous year until 30 November of the current year. Jockeys accrue 12 points for a win, 6 points for placing second, and 4 points for placing third.