James McDonald. Photo / Darryl Sherer.
The last time Katrina Alexander had much to do with champion jockey James McDonald he was just making a name for himself in a very different type of horse riding.
“I remember James riding against my daughter Samantha in the ponies, it might have even been at the Horse of the Year,” laughs Alexander.
“But he definitely hasn’t ridden a horse in a race for us.”
That will change at Flemington on Saturday week after McDonald, now rated the world’s best jockey, is booked to partner La Crique in the A$1million Empire Rose at Flemington.
Alexander and her husband Simon, who train the exciting Kiwi mare, opted for McDonald over some of Australia’s other elite riders, opting for local experience as almost all New Zealand trainers travelling to Australia for major races do these days.
“Some very, very good riders had their managers contact us but obviously we are very happy to get James,” said Alexander.
“He has never actually ridden a horse for us, I remember him riding against Sam before he was a jockey and I remember his Mum driving him around when he was still an apprentice, that is how long it has been since I saw him around.
“But we weren’t training when he was really coming through the ranks here and then of course he went to Australia.
“We are looking forward to teaming up with him.”
La Crique will head to Flemington looking for that all-important Australian group 1 and flies to Melbourne on Wednesday night.
“We are going nice and early and she will stay in Mornington, which will be an environment a bit more like what we have here at home,” explains Alexander.
“We actually stayed there years ago when we had Honor Babe racing over there and it makes the trip easier when you know the area.”
La Crique could even venture into the big city for her final serious gallop on the Tuesday before the Empire Rose.
A stunning winner of the Arrowfield Plate at Matamata 10 days ago, La Crique is the $4 favourite for the A$1million Empire Rose over 1600m in which she will clash with fellow New Zealand galloper She’s Licketysplit.
Alexander says unless something goes wrong leading up to or in the Empire Rose, it will be La Crique’s only start in her Victorian campaign.
“There are races that might suit her on the last day of the carnival but at the moment they would only be a back up.
“The aim is to go the Empire Rose and then home.”
Confirmation of La Crique heading to the Empire Rose means New Zealand will have the pre-draw favourites in two of the biggest races of Derby Day, with Mr Maestro heading the market for the A$2million Victoria Derby.