Life is all about making the most of opportunities and PJ McDonald is hoping he can turn his first ride in the Qipco 1000 Guineas into a winning one aboard Laurens at Newmarket on Sunday.
After steadily working his way through the ranks since switching to the Flat, the 35-year-old gets the chance to claim the first Classic success of his career when getting the leg-up aboard the Karl Burke-trained three-year-old in the mile prize.
Having already celebrated one landmark success with the daughter of Siyouni, when landing his first Group One over course and distance in the Fillies’ Mile, the father of two is pinching himself at the position he finds himself in.
McDonald – who won the Scottish Grand National in 2007 with the Ferdy Murphy-trained Hot Weld – said: “I can’t wait, I’m very excited. I’ve waited such a long time for this and it might never happen again in my career.
“For me, this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m going to make sure I grab it with both hands.
“I’ve ridden in plenty of good, competitive races, but I’ve never ridden in the Guineas. I’m ready for it. This is what it’s all about. It’s the reason we travel the miles we do, all looking for that one good horse.
“I’ve been riding in races since I was 16 and I’m now 35 and this is the first time one has come along for me.”
While it has been suggested by some that the John Dance-owned filly struggled to get the mile on her final start at the track last season, there is no doubt in the mind of McDonald the trip will not be an issue.
He said: “We feel like she has definitely improved physically. She was a very mentally sound horse as a two-year-old and was pretty much chilled out. Physically, she has definitely filled up into her frame and looks like a beast now.
“She only just saw it out in the Fillies’ Mile, but we always thought she would be a mile or mile-plus horse in the future.
“She is such a big filly, we always knew she might be a bit weak last year and that was when it was going to be tested, over a mile at that level.
“She showed her battling qualities in the May Hill over the mile and to be fair it was Karl who was very keen to go to Newmarket and fair play to him, he put it on the line.
“She is a Group One winner and her pedigree suggests she will be much better at three and four.”
McDonald praised Leyburn handler Burke in making sure Laurens is in the best shape possible for the big occasion.
He said: “Karl Burke is an absolutely amazing trainer. He has got great attention to detail with the horses.
“He has to work hard to find value for money, as he doesn’t have blank cheques from big owners and has proven he can do that over the last five or six years.
“She has answered every question asked of her since the turn of the year and I’m confident Karl couldn’t have her in better shape going into the Guineas.
“If she was trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore she would pretty much be favourite.”
With his own career having taken off, McDonald, who rode a century of winners for the time in his life last year, feels victory at the weekend would be very much the icing on his cake.
He said: “Things have gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years and the most important thing is the quality of horse I’m getting on at this stage of my career.
“If we win it will be overwhelming. These are the days you dream of and riding in a Classic – it sounds mad thinking about it.
“It would be amazing to to win it, I can’t describe what it would feel like and what a little tick it would be to have on my CV.”
He went on: “I’m under no illusions that it will be tough, though, as three-quarters of that field will be thinking the same as us.
“Win, lose or draw on Sunday I know she is a good filly who will have another good one in her.
“If it is not to be on Sunday we will dust ourselves down ready to do battle again.”
:: The Qipco 2000 Guineas on Saturday, May 5 marks the start of the Qipco British Champions Series and Stobart Flat Jockeys’ Championship