PJ McDonald stays in the frame to claim pulsating Mallard handicap at Doncaster
The win was particularly satisfying because McDonald dropped a rein as he outbattled Ryan Moore, arguably the world’s best rider, on Bryon Flyer.
In a pulsating finish that required a photo-finish to separate the two protagonists, Time To Study – in the vanguard throughout the contest – justified the faith shown in the jockey by Middleham trainer Mark Johnston.
“To be fair to the horse he’s very tough,” said the 35-year-old Leyburn-based rider, who is enjoying a career-best season and enjoyed a high-profile success at the track 24 hours earlier aboard Laurens.
“I didn’t make life easy for myself. It’s hard enough to beat Ryan Moore with two reins, never mind when you chuck one away! The horse dug deep. He was flat out from three out and he stuck his head out and galloped right to the line. He’s a typical Mark Johnston horse.”
The outcome was the reverse of the previous Flying Childers Stakes when Moore’s filly Heartache, trained by sprint king Clive Cox, lowered the colours of McDonald’s mount Havana Grey in another great battle.
It was a rare setback for Havana Grey’s trainer Karl Burke, who was philosophical in defeat.
“I think we’ve bumped into an improving filly,” he said.
“I saw her in France and for me she looked a bit bigger and stronger today.
“That was her fourth run, this was our eighth run, so she’s entitled to keep improving.
“I was half-wondering whether PJ was going to say he didn’t quite quicken. When he asked him at the two-pole I thought we had everything off the bridle, including the winner. I thought ‘oh we’ll nick a length and go and win our race’.
“PJ said he quickened and he couldn’t believe the other horse got back to him, so we have no excuses. I doubt he’ll run again this season.”
The feature Doncaster Cup went to David Elsworth’s Desert Skyline under champion jockey-elect Silvestre de Sousa – ironically the three-year-old is exempt from the St Leger because he’s been gelded.
Meanwhile, McDonald is in action at Chester today, hence why he is replaced by Oisin Murphy on Dream Today in the Champagne Stakes – the St Leger’s chief support race and a seven-furlong contest that often unearths future stars.
The horse made an impressive winning debut at York last month and connections are looking forward to this step up in class.
Charlie Johnston, assistant to trainer father Mark, said: “We really liked him in the spring and then he had a setback which kept him off until the second half of the season.
“He’s always worked like a very good horse. We were pretty confident going to York and he confirmed what he’d been showing us at home. This is still a big step up, going from a maiden straight into a Group Two, so we’ll find out how good he is.
“He’s got some lofty entries for the back-end of the season and we’ll find out whether they’re realistic or not.”
Meanwhile, Malton trainer Declan Carroll runs course winner Justanotherbottle in the Portland Handicap for speedsters. “He’s won over the five-and-a-half here before, so obviously the trip’s fine,” he said. “He should like the ground.
“He won with cut in the ground earlier in the season and ran a good race at York last time out. I’m looking forward to running him. He’s been training well, he’s in good nick.”