Who is the best jockey in Australia?
Edging closer to the spring majors, impatience amongst trainers and owners is growing as they become more desperate to book who they think is the best jockey in country and my selection might come as a surprise.
80 percent of the time, the best jockey is the one who has the best horse under them.
But it is the 20 percent of times when jockeys can win when they have no right to that separates the best from the rest.
A few weeks ago, I harnessed social media and asked informed punters who they thought the best jockey in Australia was.
I got 53 legitimate responses which is far from a conclusive sample size but the responses didn’t surprise me.
Nash Rawiller was selected by eight punters and Damien Oliver by seven.
Craig Williams and Hugh Bowman were equal third on six each. Glen Boss was next on five, followed by Michael Rodd on four.
It’s fair to say little separates these jockeys according to the surveyed punters.
Nick Williams, his father Lloyd’s spokesperson, was interviewed after their horse Seville won the Group 1 Metropolitan Handicap on Saturday. Elated by the victory he was asked what he thought of Hugh Bowman’s ride.
“I was a little bit worried leading into the turn when the field bunched up that he might not get a run, but as usual, Australia’s best jockey knows best and he got an inside run,” said Williams.
Those are strong words coming from the Williams stable who scour the earth in search of the best jockeys to ride their horses in the Melbourne Cup.
After they sacked Damien Oliver last year amidst his gambling scandal, they flew Brett Prebble in from Hong Kong who would go on and partner Green Moon to victory in the Melbourne Cup.
To my surprise, my selection for the best rider in the country was not mentioned once in that social media survey and that jockey is James McDonald.
I’ve called his name a few times on this website before but he just gave me another reason to do so on the weekend.
While everyone was watching the day’s four Group 1 races on Saturday, it would have been easy to miss the Group 3 Craven Plate run as the third race on the Randwick card.
The Craven was headlined by another Lloyd Williams horse, Masked Marvel, who won the English St Leger and now finding his feet on Australian soil while steeping down in class.
On paper, he should have won the Craven with ease.
James McDonald had no god-given right to win that race but spurred his mount to victory in what was by far the best riding performance of the day.
As they hooked into the straight with 300m left to travel, Honorius loped up to the lead from his midfield position and had four lengths on Masked Marvel who was closing with every stride.
With Hugh Bowman in Masked Marvel’s saddle, we all knew he would come home strong and Bowman rode him into the race with the confidence as if he knew he were on the winner.
Bowman and Masked Marvel were thundering up on his outside.
That’s when McDonald pulled out the persuader.
Under hard riding, McDonald knew it was about to turn into a match race.
With the whip in his right hand and Masked Marvel creeping up on his right, he needed to switch the whip over to his left to maintain his running line and did so without losing any momentum.
Under hard riding, McDonald does it with ease and gives Honorius three cracks, Honorius responds.
Masked Marvel was now within a length and appearing to travel the better of the two. At the 200m mark, there was still a horse on his inside and McDonald needed to keep his mount from laying in.
At the blink of an eye, McDonald pulls the whip through back to his right hand and gives Honorius another two taps to prevent him from laying in. Again, Honorius responds to maintain a one neck lead.
Masked Marvel still wouldn’t go away. The pair were now clear of the rest of the field and McDonald could now shift Honorius towards the rail.
Again he pulls the whip through to his left hand and asks his mount of a kick and shift in without losing momentum. Again Honorius responds.
Digging in hands and heels, McDonald grows a third hand.
With two on the reigns, the post within 50m and Masked Marvel providing plenty of pressure on the outside, McDonald balances and the whip emerges in his right hand for one last crack on the right side to drive to the line.
With the whip on one side and Masked Marvel on the other, the only direction Honorius was going to go was forwards.
Producing kick after kick, Honorius holds on to victory after a masterful ride from McDonald which saw him pull his whip through on four separate occasions within 300m. Four!
On Saturday, Lloyd Williams nominated Masked Marvel as his bet Melbourne Cup hope which is significant considering he has Green Moon, Sea Moon and Seville all in contention. It just adds another feather to McDonald’s cap.
Riding on both sides is now a requirement for metropolitan jockeys but to change between hands four times in the space of 300m or 19 seconds is unheard of.
Regular Group 1 winners like Nash Rawiller and Glen Boss will do it maybe once per race, if that.
It’s an art which would go unnoticed to on most occasions but what McDonald did in the Craven Plate demonstrates that the 21 year old has the talent to be Australia’s best if he isn’t already.
Is there such a thing as a ‘best jockey’? If so, who is yours?