PJ McDonald is keen to make the most of one of the biggest opportunities of his riding career after being called up to partner Pyledriver in Saturday’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes.
Fifteen years on from winning the Scottish Grand National aboard Hot Weld as a 5lb claiming conditional, McDonald is now firmly established as one of the leading Flat jockeys in the north.
However, while he steered top-class filly Laurens to win four Group Ones a few years ago, chances to ride at the highest level have proved few and far between and he is eager to grab it with both hands.
“I’ve been excited for the last few days, to be honest. It’s getting closer now and it’s just making sure the horse gets there in one piece and I get myself there in one piece,” he said.
“The King George is one of the races you dream of riding in and a lot better riders than me have never got the opportunity, so I feel like I’m in a very privileged position.
“Fingers crossed we get a bit of luck and so long as he runs well, you can’t ask for much more.”
With Pyledriver’s regular partner Martin Dwyer sidelined by injury and Frankie Dettori, who has been on board on his last couple of starts unavailable, connections were left on the lookout for a new rider.
McDonald appears the logical choice, having ridden the five-year-old to win the 2019 Ascendant Stakes at Haydock on the only previous occasion he has sat on him.
Plenty of water has passed under the bridge during the intervening period, of course, with Pyledriver winning the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Great Voltigeur at York and the Coronation Cup at Epsom – a race in which he finished second to Hukum on his most recent appearance.
“He’s obviously improved a lot since I rode a couple of years ago. They’ve done a great job with him and he’s a horse that’s just progressed with age,” McDonald added.
“He’s a well-seasoned campaigner and has been to all the big dog fights, so I’m really looking forward to riding him.”
Pyledriver might be the rank outsider in Saturday’s stellar six-strong field, but McDonald feels he should not be dismissed lightly.
He said: “You can make a case for every horse in the race pretty much. We’re the outsider, but I think he’ll go and do himself credit.”