James McDonald caught a glimpse yesterday of what it would be like to win the race that has inspired him since he was a child.
In his first ride in a Melbourne Cup, McDonald, 20, guided the Gai Waterhouse-trained British import Fiorente into second place behind Green Moon, ridden by Brett Prebble.
The Sydney-based Cambridge jockey earned A$45,000 (NZ$56,700) for his work and said the experience had been like no other but his overriding emotion immediately after the race was one of disappointment.
"I'm gutted to be honest," he said. "I've prepared for this race as much as for any race I've ever ridden in. Mentally I've given it my all and I'm just drained at the moment. It might be a bit different if I'd won. But first ride in the Melbourne Cup and I've run second so I can't be too disappointed."
Fiorente was slow away but from barrier two McDonald was able to press forward and settled in eighth place with an economical run.
However, he was lamenting unwanted inward movement from Sanagas with 600 metres to run, just as he had angled three wide to slide forward.
That meant Fiorente was unable to angle clear when McDonald wanted and he held his line on the corner before getting into the clear with 350m to run.
McDonald's handling of Fiorente earned Waterhouse's praise. "He's one of the most fantastic jockeys to come out of the land of the long white cloud since Shane Dye. He rode him a treat," Waterhouse said.
"Fiorente got held up a touch at the top of the straight and it probably cost him the race. I loved the way he extended late but the other horse had got away on us. I've just messaged [winning owner] Lloyd Williams and said ‘it's your shout - make sure you bring the cup on Wednesday night at dinner'."
A special bond between the first jockeys was evident as McDonald congratulated Prebble after they crossed the line yesterday. Apart from being the first two home and having ridden against each in Hong Kong, Prebble was something of an idol of McDonald's after he had visited the training stables of his father, Brett McDonald, about 10 years ago. The pair were photographed together and Prebble gave a 10-year-old McDonald one of his whips.
"It was a Sunline whip and I was tickled pink to get it," McDonald said last night.
McDonald's day ended on a sour note when he was suspended for 14 meetings for causing interference 600m from home in the cup.
McDonald said it was not his fault and had appealed against the suspension.
Should he fail to get the sentence reduced, he will miss the ride on Pure Elegance in the Group I 1000 Guineas at Riccarton on November 17 and in Hong Kong the following day when he is booked to ride Champions Mile winner Xtension.