A country boy from Cambridge

AIDAN RODLEY
Last updated 05:00 01/01/2013
Waikato Times

Cambridge champion jockey James McDonald has the racing world at his feet. After a record-breaking New Zealand 2011 season he has gone on the perform at the highest level on the world stage including a second place in the Melbourne Cup.

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How many 20-year-old men have the world at their feet?

And of that exclusive group, how man are restricted to a diet of mainly fruit, vegatables, soup and water?

When most of his peers are enjoying a summer beer and dinner, Cambridge jockey James McDonald is maintaining discipline to keep his weight under control for is chosen career.

The payoff for his sacrifice is that James McDonald maintains a weight in the 52-54kg range required to ply his trade at the top level.

The motivation comes from a desire to be the world's best.

And he's well on the way.

McDonald last year won Gr I races - racing's most prestigious category - in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand and international media were quick to recognise his talent, tagging him as "the Kiwi superstar" touting him as one the next big things among the world's jockey ranks.

For all his ability and achievement, McDonald has remained remarkably humble. He is unashamedly "a country boy from Cambridge" and staunchly proud of his Waikato roots.

In a sport which doesn't have the profile of rugby or netball or rowing in an Olympic year, McDonald is a racing rockstar and has fans wanting an autograph or a photo wherever he competes.

Aside from his natural ability and tactical nous in the saddle, what sets McDonald apart from most of his contemporaries is his temperament and willingness to learn.

Soon after setting a New Zealand record of 2007 wins in a season in August last year, he first tried his luck in Sydney and had results go against him, then he lost the ride on subsequent Victoria Derby winner Sangster - setbacks that he admits hurt him.

"Last spring I got a couple of decent kicks in the guts," McDonald said.

"And they bloody hurt. But if they hadn't happened I wouldn't be the jockey I am now. Those experiences taught me that it is not just about turning up and expecting to ride winners. I have to do my study, keep learning, keep getting better. After all, I hope this is only the start."

It's that maturity and level-headedness that led to his success this year and are attributes that in the coming years could see him regarded among the best jockeys in the world.

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- Waikato Times

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