Kiwi riding marvel James McDonald is eagerly awaiting the biggest moment of his jockeying career, the 2011 Melbourne Cup, but to guarantee the mount on Queensland Oaks winner Scarlett Lady the ace apprentice must watch his weight.
Graeme Rogerson’s boom Savabeel mare Scarlett Lady surged into contention to claim the iconic ‘Spring Cups’ double, emulating the feats of former great Kiwi mare Ethereal who won the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups of 2001, when she won her first six starts this year including the Group 1 Queensland Oaks in Brisbane last start in June.
Scarlett Lady’s record now stands at an impressive six wins and two minor placings from 10 starts, and McDonald has been credited for some of her stunning form having been aboard her for every race this year.
Entering the New Zealand racing record books as the first Kiwi apprentice to record 200 or more city wins in a single season, McDonald is hot property in the industry with stables in both Sydney and Melbourne vying for his services.
While there’s little doubt Scarlett Lady will be there for both the $2.5 million Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) on October 15 and then the infamous $6 million Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on November 1, there are some doubts over McDonald being able to make the weight to ride her.
On Thursday Racing Victoria’s chief handicapper Greg Carpenter indicated that Scarlett Lady would be handed “less than 52 kg” when the 2011 Melbourne Cup weights were released.
The lightest McDonald has ridden Scarlett Lady at is 53.5kg when she won the Listed Manawatu Breeders Stakes (2000m) and Group 2 Travis Stakes (2000m) back-to-back at her homeland in April, and he admitted that getting under 52kg would be tough.
“I’ve been on holidays so I haven’t tried to keep my weight down,” the 19-year-old said.
“I plan to ride at 53kg in the spring and I can ride at 52 on a strict diet.
“Getting down to 51 might stretch it.
“That is probably going to be a concern”
There is a chance Scarlett Lady would be weighted above Carpenter’s indication in the Caulfield Cup, however, if the topweights of the field did not accept and weights for the feature were raised.
Either way, five-time Group 1 winning rider McDonald will be doing everything in his power to get aboard Scarlett Lady for her Cups campaign, saying she had come back from her winter break in top form.
“It’s my first chance to win the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups and chances on horses like her won’t come along too often,” he said.
“I’m really excited about riding over here and riding such a good horse like Scarlett Lady.
“She’s just one of those horses that will stay all day.
“She’s come back awesome.
“I will ride her in an exhibition gallop at Te Rapa on Saturday week, then she will run in a 1400 metre race come here for the Underwood Stakes.”
The 1400 metre race McDonald referred to is the Group 1 Mudgway Stakes (1400m) at Hastings on August 27, a race McDonald took out 12 months ago aboard classy mare Keep The Peace, after which connections will send Scarlett Lady across the Tasman.
Her first-up run down under this prep is likely to be the $350,000 Group 1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield on September 17.
Meanwhile, McDonald will get himself accustomed to the famous Flemington track this Saturday having been booked for two rides representing New Zealand in the Asian Young Guns series and also getting a start in the meeting’s black-type feature with Queensland raider Temple Of Boom in the $150,000 Group 3 Aurie’s Star Handicap (1200m).
“It’ll be good to have a nice ride around the track on Saturday and get the feel of the place and hopefully come back and have a bit of luck in the next month or so,” he said.
Saturday will be the second time McDonald rides on the course where the Melbourne Cup takes place each year on the first Tuesday of November, the young gun harbouring found memories of his unplaced ride aboard Occidentalis in the closing race of Victoria Derby Day back in 2009.
“I’ve ridden here once before, on Derby Day, and it was probably one of the highlights of my year that year, just riding on a big day like that,” McDonald said.
“It was unbelievable with the atmosphere and the track here is just beautiful, probably one of the best courses you could ever ride on.”
In the latest Caulfield Cup odds Scarlett Lady is the $12 favourite over the Peter Moody-trained Lights Of Heaven ($13) while in the futures Melbourne Cup 2011 betting markets she is paying $17 to upset $13 equal favourites Americain, Maluckyday and Shamrocker.
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