Danie Toerien: Irishman PJ McDonald’s dream of competing under the Union Jack in the upcoming Premier Gateway International Jockeys Challenge in Singapore this month was shattered when he was injured in a freak accident on Monday.
McDonald fractured his left ankle and right heel as he was thrown off Westward Ho in the paddock at Newcastle racecourse.
He will be replaced in Team UK by countryman Fran Berry. The challenge – presented by South Africa’s Phumelela Gaming & Leisure and Tabcorp, together with their international subsidiary Premier Gateway International (PGI), and hosted by Singapore Turf Club – will be contested at Kranji Racecourse on Tuesday 25 September.
Replacement Berry won the Chester Cup aboard Magic Circle in May this year. The pair followed it up with a victory in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown, comfortably beating the well-fancied Weekender, ridden by Frankie Dettori.
So impressive was Magic Circle’s double that his connections decided to enter the six-year-old in the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most famous race, alongside 182 other hopefuls. Should he run, dual Melbourne Cup winning jockey Corey Brown will be handed the reins as Berry cannot make the low weight Magic Circle is likely to be allocated.
Describing this week’s accident, the disappointed McDonald said: “I’m not entirely sure what happened. The horse went down first then reared up and I fell quite heavily. I’ve fractured my left ankle and my right heel, so it’s a fair combination of injuries.”
Asked about a potential time frame for his return to action, the jockey said he has to go for more X-rays in two weeks, but the initial diagnosis is that he will be out of action for about 12 weeks.
McDonald had already ridden 100 winners this season and looked well on course to better the 128 winners he rode last season. In the race immediately before the injury, he landed that 100th victory, aboard Hard Taskmaster.
He said: “It just goes to show the ups and downs of this game. I rode a double at Newcastle last night, got my 100th winner of the year and an hour later I’m on a stretcher in hospital.
“It’s one of those things and you have to take the rough with the smooth. I know there’s a lot of people worse off and I just need to keep going and get myself back as soon as possible.’
McDonald had teamed up with the Karl Burke-trained Laurens to win the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket, the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary and the Prix de Diane – the “French Oaks” – in the last year.
The jockey will now, at the very least, miss the star filly’s intended run in the Coolmore Matron Stakes at Leopardstown in Ireland on Saturday week.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s champion jockey, Lyle Hewitson, is racing against time to be fit to take part in the big international showdown at Kranji.
He injured his knee in a fall at Fairview in Port Elizabeth on July 20, just before the end of the 2017/18 racing season, but had enough of a lead on the jockey championship log to become the first apprentice rider to clinch the championship win the title in 50 years.
Hewitson is confident of getting back in the saddle in the next week or so, having spent time in a hyperbaric chamber and undergone ozone sauna therapy, heat treatments and physiotherapy.
As champion jockey, Hewitson will captain Team SA, which also features crack riders Muzi Yeni and Aldo Domeyer.
Top Brazilian jockey and former Kranji favourite Joao Moreira will no doubt be one of the main drawcards as he returns to his old stomping ground as Team Asia’s captain.
Freshly-licensed in Japan, the former four-time Singapore champion jockey and three-time Hong Kong champion jockey will have as teammates the two Singapore table-toppers, Vlad Duric from the senior ranks and Troy See from the juniors.
Team Australia will be captained by none other than the 2017 Longines World’s Best Jockey Hugh Bowman, also better known as world champion mare Winx’s regular partner. The four-time Sydney champion jockey will have fellow Sydney top gun Kerrin McEvoy and leading Melbourne rider Mark Zahra as teammates.
The fourth squad, Team UK, is captained by Hayley Turner, one of the best female jockeys to have graced the British and Irish turf in recent years.
She and replacement Berry will be joined by Rab Havlin, an up-and-comer on the fiercely competitive UK circuit.