For glamour jockey James McDonald, the Melbourne spring carnival was supposed to be all about the WS Cox Plate, a race for turf’s purists.
McDonald made a hasty dash out of Sydney after collecting the $15 million Everest on Nature Strip so he could quarantine ahead of Cox Plate day for what looked liked his best ride during the Melbourne spring carnival.
He had the mount on Zaaki, a warm favourite to win the prestigious weight-for-age contest.
But in a sudden turn of events, Zaaki was withdrawn from the race and McDonald watched on from the jockeys’ room.
It got worse for McDonald, who made a name for himself in New Zealand before becoming one of the most sought-after jockeys in Australia.
His Melbourne Cup ride Away He Goes succumbed to a tendon injury last week and McDonald was resigned to a 12-month wait to have his chance in Australia’s famous race.
But when Chris Waller decided to run Verry Elleegant at the 11th hour, McDonald was his go-to jockey after it was thought Damian Lane had the inside running.
“It’s been a fairytale really, some things are meant to be,” McDonald said.
Verry Elleegant’s Melbourne Cup triumph for Australia comes with more than its share of New Zealand influence.
Waller also made the move across two decades ago and Verry Elleegant is a poster girl for the New Zealand breeding industry.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to work with a stable like Chris’s,” McDonald told Network Ten.
“He’s so easy to ride for, very uncomplicated.
“We have a lot of faith in all our horses, we work closely, whether it’s a Gosford maiden or a Melbourne Cup with these horses.
“I’m so lucky to be a part of his team.”