James McDonald convinced hit-and-run mission to ride Zaaki in Northerly Stakes will be worth it

James McDonald is no stranger to shouldering demanding workloads but as he approaches one of the biggest weeks of his year, he’s convinced a hit-and-run mission from Hong Kong to Perth to partner Zaaki in the Group 1 Northerly Stakes will be worth it.

The superstar rider has a full diary of obligations this week – starting with the International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley on Wednesday night, a trackwork appointment with Hong Kong Cup favourite and Cox Plate hero Romantic Warrior on Thursday morning before dashing off to Perth to fulfil a commitment to Zaaki on Saturday.

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He’ll then jump on an overnight flight back to Hong Kong, where he’s got a big book of rides at the city’s premier meeting on Sunday, including all four Group 1s.

It’s a hefty load for anyone but McDonald has proven he can handle it.

“Last year I did about six trips to Hong Kong and it was just day trips as well – I was that midnight flight in, rode and was out on the midnight flight back,” the seven-time Sydney champion said.

“The hardest to get through will be Wednesday night, because that’s a late finish, so I won’t get much sleep and I’ve got to get up and ride work on Thursday morning – Romantic (Warrior) is galloping – then hop on a plane at 3 o’clock.

“Instead of flying Friday, I thought I’d thought I’d fly Thursday and give myself a day there just to regroup and get stuff done.

“Zaaki is my only ride so Saturday will be quite an easy sort of day, hop on a midnight flight back get ready for a full card on Sunday.”

Zaaki is the class runner in the Northerly Stakes – a four-time Group 1 winner – and the short-priced favourite comes into the feature after an “almost” spring – around the mark in a host of big races but failing to land one.

McDonald, who has just begun a six-week stint in Hong Kong, has been getting regular updates from trainer Annabel Neasham about Zaaki’s condition and all the feedback has been positive so far.

“He should be very, very hard to beat,” he said.

“He’s in such good form, Annabel has been reporting in that he’s such a happy horse and when he’s a happy horse he normally runs particularly well.”

Zaaki has been on the ground in Perth for more than three weeks, giving McDonald confidence he’ll be able to perform at his peak and not suffer the same fate as the likes of fellow interstate raiders Roots, Tuvalu and Forgot You, who all came up flat in the Railway Stakes a fortnight ago.

“He was on the same flight as Roots and all those horses, they ran within a week (of arriving) and it was well-documented they didn’t go as well as the market predicted but he’s been there for three weeks now, he’s had time to recover, he’s been at the beach, he looks great,” McDonald said.

The 31-year-old is also content with the draw, glad he’s not going to get trapped on the rail.

“I didn’t want to draw in with him – I would’ve loved six but barrier 10 is pretty good,” McDonald said.

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