"I didn't need a tight finish to start the day," McDonald puffed as he hopped off $1.75 favourite Cormac, his first competitive ride and winner since being outed for 18 months for backing one of his own horses to win.
But he would have given anything to get a winner so quickly. And it didn't take long to get one. The question in racing circles is not if McDonald will get near the top again, but how fast? Rugby league loves a tale of redemption, racing has a whole bookshelf full of them.
Damien Oliver won a Melbourne Cup a few months after a puny nine-month ban for betting on a horse he was riding against in a race. Realising the error of their ways, Australian lawmakers implemented far stiffer mandatory penalties for jockeys done for betting offences thereafter.
McDonald bore the brunt of it, even though his supporters will argue he only bet on himself to win – and not lose. Yet, it might have been the best thing to happen to him. By his own admission, he's a changed man. For someone who has known nothing but riding horses since an adolescent, he's lived a normal life for a year-and-a-half.
"It's probably been well documented over the last week how much I've matured," McDonald said after finishing with a double courtesy of Monasterio for Chris Waller, who prepared five of the seven winners on the day. Hopefully this is the start of bigger and better things. I've got to move on and this is a good starting point."
Australia's premier group 1 trainer Waller provided McDonald's first and second winners at the Farm. The former was a horse owned by Denise Martin's Star Thoroughbreds, one of the leading syndicators in the country.
If that is the support you get on your first day back, what will come in the future?
"He's professional and a wonderful rider," beamed Martin, who subsequently won the second race of the day with Pembroke Castle. "He was hard to get. I was trying to think with James [how much we used to use him], but he was hard to access because he is such a great rider. He's a tremendous addition to the ranks. First race, No.1 ... we're very happy."
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