PJ McDonald winning the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes on Havana Grey at the Curragh in 2018
© Photo Healy RacingPJ McDonald achieved a notable milestone as he notched up the 1,000th winner of his career with victory aboard Zabeel Champion at Newmarket on Friday.
The 38-year-old secured the landmark verdict as the Mark Johnston-trained son of Poet’s Voice followed up his victory at the Rowley Mile last month in the bet365 Handicap.
While starting his career over jumps where he rode 37 winners, including the 2007 Scottish Grand National on Hot Weld, it is on the Flat where McDonald has really made his name.
Since swapping codes more than a decade ago, the Yorkshire-based rider has enjoyed plenty of Group race glory and while his latest triumph is not his most high-profile success, it certainly means as much.
McDonald said: “There’s a lot of lads riding more winners than me and there’s people that have got to it (1,000-winner mark) a lot quicker than me, but it’s great to get there.
“From a personal point of view, my career has only really taken off properly in the last five or six years.
“It was hard graft at small tracks with not so many good horses in the early part, but it helped me keep my feet on the ground and helped me appreciate all the good that’s happened in the last few years.”
Every jockey needs a good horse to put them on the map and McDonald will be forever thankful to the now-retired Laurens for helping his career really take off.
Although he enjoyed four Group One victories aboard the former Karl Burke-trained mare, there is one he believes stands head and shoulders above them all.
He said: “Winning a Classic on Laurens (French Oaks) was right up there, as it was planned.
“You plan a lot in this game, but it doesn’t come off very often, so for Laurens to go and win was a great achievement.”
While Laurens will always remain close to McDonald’s heart, victory aboard the Peter Niven-trained Clever Cookie in the 2016 Group Two Yorkshire Cup was another moment he will savour for years to come.
He said: “Riding Clever Cookie to win at York was a great buzz — the Yorkshire crowd absolutely loved him and were screaming his name on the way to the post!
“Cantering him down was like going into a boxing ring, so for him to win was great.
“Yorkshire has been my home since 2005, so that was a really special day.”
Helping McDonald to reach his landmark figure has been the support he has received from Middleham master Johnston, and paying tribute to his latest achievement was his son and assistant Charlie.
He said: “I’m not sure PJ knew too much about it, but he said it makes sense now as he has been struggling to ride a winner for the last week as he has been stuck on 999!
“In comparison to our other two main jockeys to the team he is a relatively new addition, but he has been a welcome addition for sure.
“While the other two boys (Franny Norton and Joe Fanning) are still riding at the top of their game, we do need some younger support to our squad and PJ has offered that in the last couple of seasons.”
In the eyes of Johnston, it was fitting McDonald achieved his landmark success on a horse he believed he would be well suited to.
Johnston added: “I did think he was tailor-made for that horse. He is a lovely, big horse — all 570 kilos off him. I knew PJ was very strong, what with his previous career, and that horse would respond for strong riding.
“I thought when he gets stuck into this horse, he will keep finding for him and that’s how it proved.”