He’s yet to taste success in the Caulfield Cup but James McDonald believes his efforts to get down to 54kg will pay dividends in Saturday’s $5 million feature.
Australia’s premier rider will partner the Chris Waller-trained Francesco Guardi in what experts are declaring “the strongest field in years”.
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“It’s some Caulfield Cup this year, there’s six horses that you could easily put as your top pick,” said McDonald, who has finished second and third from four rides in the Caulfield Cup.
“I think Gold Trip, Soulcombe, Without A Fight, Montefilia and my bloke have all demonstrated enough here in Australia to be a live Caulfield Cup chance.
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“And then there’s West Wind Blows, who had to work very hard in the Turnbull Stakes behind Gold Trip and with a better run here could easily turn the table.
“Plus you’ve got Valiant King, a northern hemisphere three-year-old and they have a terrific record in Australian handicaps.”
Only WA champion Northerly (2002) and Dunaden (2012) has carried more than 57.5kg and won the Caulfield Cup this century. That’s the challenge for Gold Trip but Francesco Guardi, who carries “a nice weight” of 54kg gets his chance.
James McDonald will ride Francesco Guardi in the Caulfield Cup. Credit: Getty Images
The son of Frankel smashed them in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup last spring and rocketed into Melbourne Cup favouritsim, but a minor setback saw him spelled immediately before he made his return to racing in the Group 1 Winx Stakes in August.
“I really liked his run first-up and again second-up when just out of the placings in the Makybe Diva Stakes,” he said.
“That’s why I locked into him so early and committed to riding him at a weight I rarely get down to.”
The last time McDonald rode a horse carrying 54kg was March 2021 aboard the Waller-trained Vowmaster.
“It requires a bit of extra work for me to get down to 54kg but I haven’t won a Caulfield Cup yet so I was keen to find a decent ride and do what it takes,” he said.
McDonald wasn’t aboard Francesco Guardi when he finished fifth in the Turnbull Stakes behind Gold Trip with Melbourne jockey Damien Lane taking the ride.
“At first I was a bit disappointed with the run but then you look at how fast the race was run and the fact he was only third-up off a long break and you start to see some hidden merit,” McDonald said.
“I worked him on Tuesday and thought he went super. I’m convinced the run in the Turnbull has brought him on immensely.
“I think you’ll see him produce a peak performance on Saturday.”
Asked to pick one of the many “top chances” in the race as his main danger, McDonald gave a push for one at double figure odds.
“I had a bit to do with Valiant King and reckon he’s a very nice horse with no weight on his back,” he said.
“That usually the best recipe for success in the Cups. But before the Cup races make sure you watch Riff Rocket in race two – he could be a horse that is back here in 12 months running in the big one.”
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