Revelations yesterday that Cambridge jockey James McDonald was approached about riding last year's Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux in today's A$6.2 million Flemington showpiece illustrate just how highly he is regarded on a global scale.
Champion English trainer Ed Dunlop confirmed he had spoken to McDonald about his availability for the Red Cadeaux ride, but at that stage the Sydney-based jockey had already committed to the Gai Waterhouse-trained Fiorente.
Michael Rodd, who finished second on Red Cadeaux in last year's Cup, beaten a nose, takes the reins again today.
''James was under consideration for Red Cadeaux,'' Dunlop said of McDonald yesterday.
''He'd taken the ride on Fiorente though. We were always waiting for Michael, to be fair. We didn't know till after the Caulfield Cup whether we had him or not and as soon as he was available we grabbed him.''
Dunlop has spoken to McDonald about riding in England in the future and said he regarded him as an emerging international talent.
''James spent three or four weeks with us a couple of years ago,'' Dunlop said.
''Peter Vela asked me if I'd be happy to accommodate him and he had three or four weeks riding out for me at Newmarket and he had a couple of rides in races for me.
''I know he was king of New Zealand and things are going very well for him here in Australia. I was talking to Michael Rodd about him and said 'how's he getting on?'
''Michael said he was rapidly moving up the ranks. He's a cool kid and I'm sure he'll go very far.''
McDonald, 20, breaks new ground again today with his first ride in the Melbourne Cup and as he sat perched up on the back of a Mercedes convertible as part of the annual Cup parade that featured the likes of Australian racing legend Bart Cummings before an estimated 50,000-strong crowd, he admitted it was all ''a bit overwhelming for a Kiwi kid from the country''.
''It's just pretty exciting really. Look how many people are queued up to watch. It's amazing, really. There's so much hype around the race,'' McDonald said yesterday.
''I just wanted to get Derby day out of the way before I started thinking about it and today it's all just starting to sink in what the Melbourne Cup is all about. It's all a bit overwhelming really but it's pretty awesome though.
''I thought [Hong Kong] International Day was huge and Cox Plate day was massive, but this probably overtakes it. It's just unbelievable.''
McDonald rode English import Fiorente - a $26 chance on the New Zealand TAB - in training at Werribee last week and said he had instantly got excited about his Melbourne Cup prospects.
''He's a beautiful stallion and I genuinely reckon the horse is a great chance of running in the money,'' McDonald said.
''When I worked him during the week, he felt to me like he had a few gears there. Some of the European stayers are quite dour but he's got real zip. When he ran up the straight the other day he just kept quickening all the time.
''The gate [barrier two] is going to suit him. Mourayan is drawn three and the speed is basically all around us. We're going to end up in a beautiful spot. I'd love to stay one off the fence and give myself options.
''I watched his replays again last night and it gave me even more confidence the way he won that race [the Goldsmiths Stakes] at Newmarket.
''When he dashed away from them, he really put them away and he beat Joshua Tree and Red Cadeaux - two great horses. If he can bring that form to the Melbourne Cup he's going to be a great chance. He's down in the weights, so I think he's a smokie.''
McDonald said it had always been his ambition to ride in the Melbourne Cup.
''As a kid you always dream of riding in a Melbourne Cup but you never think you'll ever be able to do it,'' he said.
''It's great to be part of a race they say stops a nation and it's so international now it's probably the race that's stopping the world.''
- © Fairfax NZ News