Who is the best jockey in Australia?

Alfred Chan Columnist

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    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?

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • October 8th 2013 @ 10:04am
      danny said | October 8th 2013 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      not james mcdonald,blake shinn

    • Columnist

      October 8th 2013 @ 10:27am
      Geoff Parkes said | October 8th 2013 @ 10:27am | ! Report

      Hi Alfred

      It’s a tough question, I think even the top jocks are only as good as their last ride. As an owner I’ve had some of the best, including Oliver and Williams get it badly wrong in the run and jump off and immediately apologise for messing up, and conversely have had less heralded 2nd and 3rd tier jocks ride perfect races.

      There are so many variables, not the least of which is the horse’s ability and will to win, but the draw and luck in the running plays such a big part. Not knocking Luke Nolen at all but you’d have to think that even if Billy Brownless was up, Black Caviar would still be unbeaten.

      The best jocks train harder, prepare better and perform at their peak more often and more consistently. And they’re good communicators with owners and trainers. I don’t necessarily like the showmanship but Boss is probably the best for mine. Although I agree about McDonald, he’s talented and level headed.

    • October 8th 2013 @ 10:38am
      Drew H said | October 8th 2013 @ 10:38am | ! Report

      On one hand, the best jockeys do get the best mounts. I suppose the score board tells the story.

      On the other hand, the best jockeys get a lot from any horse with a bit of scope.

      I think that Nicholas Hall rides very well. His injury, sustained a few years ago, was most unfortunate.

      • Columnist

        October 8th 2013 @ 10:50am
        Justin Cinque said | October 8th 2013 @ 10:50am | ! Report

        Drew, Nick Hall is in career-best form at the moment. A big Group 1 awaits…

        • Columnist

          October 8th 2013 @ 8:22pm
          Alfred Chan said | October 8th 2013 @ 8:22pm | ! Report

          A friend of mine used to have a horse with Robbie Griffith. Nick Hall rode a few times and then they tried to experiment with two other jockeys. After that they insisted at any expense that Nick Hall ride their horse. I hear he’s very good with owners!

        • October 20th 2013 @ 8:48am
          Drew H said | October 20th 2013 @ 8:48am | ! Report

          Hey Justin,

          I suppose that the Caulfield Cup does count for a Group1 win. Nice call.

          • Columnist

            October 20th 2013 @ 11:03am
            Justin Cinque said | October 20th 2013 @ 11:03am | ! Report

            I had forgotten about that little comment I made (although I do clearly remember typing it now!)

            Yeah, I’ve been really impressed by the way Nick Hall has been going about things this spring. He’s always had ability but now he’s delivering on that potential.

    • October 8th 2013 @ 2:32pm
      Scuba said | October 8th 2013 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

      Macdonald is a very good jockey.

      Another one who I doubt wold have been mentioned in your survey is Damian Browne. Terrific jockey up this way, has to limit his own opportunities given a horrific accident some years ago. Top ride on Fire Up Fifi in the last at Flemington on Saturday. Maybe lacks the ability to stand over one in the way that Rawiller or Bowman can, but you won’t lose backing him in the long run.

    • October 8th 2013 @ 7:33pm
      Conor Quinn said | October 8th 2013 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

      James McDonald, just another Kiwi who will be claimed as Australia’s best as long as he keeps on winning 🙂

    • October 8th 2013 @ 10:10pm
      JC said | October 8th 2013 @ 10:10pm | ! Report

      It’s impossible to say who is the best but we all have our favourite jockeys I guess. We’re just lucky here that we have so many top class jockeys. One guy who hardly ever gets spoken about but is as good as anyone is Glyn Schofield. His winning rides at Randwick on Saturday were incredible.

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