McDonald Confident Zaaki’s Got His Groove Back

Premier jockey James McDonald has the sense that superstar Zaaki is in the right shape to remind everyone of his class in his long awaited return at Randwick on Saturday.

Jockey James McDonald (Pic: Bradley Photos).

Autumn targets like the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes were abandoned when the eight-year-old trialled poorly back in February but McDonald said he was a different horse – “chalk and cheese” – upon reuniting in his latest trial hitout on April 3.

And that gives him confidence Zaaki will fire in the Group 1 $1.5m Schweppes All Aged Stakes (1400m), a race McDonald won last year on Cascadian.

“He was flat as a tack and that just wasn’t him but in his last trial he was back to his brilliant, quirky, self,’’ McDonald said.

“I’ve had a bit to do with him now so I know whether he’s on or off and he’s definitely back on song and back to his usual self.”

Zaaki hasn’t raced since accounting for Mo’unga and Hezashocka, second and fourth in last week’s Queen Elizabeth, in the Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) on November 5, his fourth win at Group 1 level.

Whether it was the quick turnaround into the autumn that didn’t give Zaaki enough time to reset physically and mentally is up for debate but McDonald said going on how he felt in that latest trial, on the polytrack, there’s every reason to think he’ll be a force.

He’s only raced twice at the Randwick 1400m for two easy wins in the Tramway of 2021 and 2022, the first on a good track and the latter on a heavy 10.

“He runs terrific fresh all the time. This is his toughest test over 1400m but he’s going terrific,’’ McDonald said.

“He’s a top class horse, there’s no question about that, and when he has won over the seven furlongs at Randwick he’s absolutely donkey licked his rivals.

“He’s a very adaptable horse and any rain just enhances his chances because he gets through the conditions well and it makes it more of a test.

“I like the gate, I like how he’s going, and I wouldn’t swap him for anything in the race.”

Zaaki was $5.50 second favourite with TAB on Thursday behind Giga Kick.

McDonald partners the Peter and Paul Snowden-trained Don Corleone in the Group 1 $600,000 Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes (1600m) and says the colt has the credentials to turn the tables on Militarize from their Sires’ clash two weeks ago.

Don Corleone has had a busy autumn since McDonald partnered him to an eye-catching debut win back in January with a second in the Blue Diamond, fourth in the Golden Slipper and last start second in the Sires’.

“He’s a top class two-year-old and his form suggests that,’’ he said.

“It’d be fitting if he could win a Group 1 at two and from what I felt on Tuesday he was excellent. He was in a good frame of mind and from when I last sat on him he’s improved physically.

“He’s got to turn a big margin around on Militarize but he’s definitely got it up his sleeve.”

It’s another busy day for McDonald with nine rides on the 10 race card and of them he’s keen to see how Floating has developed in the Midway Handicap (1400m).

He partnered the Matt Smith-trained grey to a dominant win on The Hunter program at Newcastle in the spring and Floating will be second-up after a narrow defeat at Warwick Farm on March 29.

“He’s a very progressive horse and will handle the give in the ground,’’ he said.

“He put up a good performance over seven furlongs (first-up), ideally if it was a mile you’d be even more confident.

“You wouldn’t get a softer victory than when I last rode him at Newcastle, it was a superb performance, and he just has to replicate that and he’ll be hard to beat.”

– Racing NSW

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