The countdown to the Sydney Spring Racing...
McDonald, 19, is just one win away from reaching the impressive milestone of 200 winners back home in New Zealand this season, but has put his Kiwi quest on hold to race at Eagle Farm this Saturday.
The emerging hoop has been engaged by training trio – brothers Michael and Wayne and their father John Hawkes – to take the mount on their well-bred and steadily improving filly Pontiana in the highlight race at the meeting.
Three-year-old Pontiana will take her spot in gate seven in the Australian racing season’s closing Group 1 feature, the $500,000 Tattersall’s Tiara (1400m), attempting to break a two-year Group 1 drought for John Hawkes.
Hawkes most recently scored a thoroughbred major when Zabeel gelding Fiumicino won the 2009 The BMW (2400m) at Rosehill and believes it has been long enough between drinks.
It will be a big step up in class for the young filly tomorrow, Pontiana facing off against the likes of Doomben 10,000 winner and odds-on favourite Beaded, QTC Cup champion Varenna Miss, Dane Ripper Stakes victor Hurtle Myrtle and dual Group 1 winner Yosei.
The Hawkes team, however, remain hopeful that Pontiana can rise to the occasion and that McDonald will help her get the job done tomorrow.
“He’s obviously a very good jockey,” Hawkes said.
“Jockeys don’t break records in the fashion he has and at his age.
“I must say he’s highly promising and hopefully he’ll suit this filly.”
McDonald has already saluted in one Group 1 feature in Australia this Brisbane Winter Carnival when he saluted aboard New Zealand-trained filly Scarlett Lady in the Queensland Oaks on June 4, and there is every chance he can add a second to that record tomorrow.
The Tattersall’s Tiara will be just the ninth career start for Pontiana, but this prep she has shown plenty of promise earning herself a shot in the elite-level classic.
After running third, beaten less than a length by winner Shannara, in the Listed Dark Jewel Classic (1400m) at Scone, Pontiana then travelled to Brisbane for the first time last month.
On June 4 she finished an eye-catching third behind Hurtle Myrtle and Zero Rock in the Group 2 Dane Ripper Stakes (1400m) and will now get the chance to turn the tables on these two in the Tatt’s Tiara.
Pontiana is an outsider in the Tattersal’s Tiara markets paying $26, but her connections believe this is a very generous price for such a progressive runner.
“She’s done very well since the Dane Ripper,” Hawkes said.
“She’s not well off at the weights but she’s drawn to be competitive.”
John Hawkes won the 2002 Tattersall’s Tiara, when the race was known as the Winter Stakes, with Heptonstall.
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