By Ray Hickson
It’s a fairly safe bet to suggest if you’ve had 19 rides on a horse you know them pretty well.
That statistic applies to jockey Declan McDonogh and the Chris Waller stayer Xebec but the Irishman hasn’t sat on the horse since October 2016.
That is, until they are reunited in the Divali Thoroughbreds Cup (2400m) at Warwick Farm on Saturday.
McDonogh rode Xebec exclusively when he raced for John Oxx in the UK and his 19 rides realised three wins and seven placings.
As Saturday’s meeting brings his Australian summer working holiday to an end, how fitting would it be if he’s the man to bring about the overdue win.
“It’s a small world and racing is an even smaller world again,’’ McDonogh said.
“That’s the new age isn’t it. Horses get sold to race in other countries.
“It’s a bit coincidental to be riding him again.’’
Xebec has had nine starts under Chris Waller for three third placings in the 11 months since his Australian debut.
The gelding’s last win was on August 24 in 2016, with McDonogh of course riding, and it was over the 2414m.
So what sort of horse was the Xebec that McDonogh knew?
“He was a decent handicapper at home, he won a few races, he was a pretty adaptable sort of horse and he did well in Ireland,’’ he said.
“He used to race up on the pace when he was at home and he wanted a mile and a half.’’
Xebec was a well-supported favourite at his latest run over 2000m at Randwick on January 20 and he was beaten 1.7 lengths by stablemate Carzoff.
On that occasion he settled well back after drawing a wide gate and ran the fastest last 600m of the race (34.57 Punters Intel) but the way the race was run it was virtually impossible for him to win.
McDonogh has the inside alley on Xebec on Saturday, where he’s a $4.20 chance with TAB, and looking at the grey’s form he said he appears close to a breakthrough.
“He’s knocking on the door, his form is all right,’’ he said.
“It takes a while for a European horse to adjust to the Australian way of racing. It’s a handy enough field, I haven’t spoken to Chris yet but I’ll keep it simple I’d say.’’
He also rides Phoneme for Waller in the opening race at Warwick Farm and his final Australian ride for this stint will be on the Bjorn Baker-trained Ta Chanson, a $26 chance in the Inglis Classic (1200m).
McDonogh flies out of Sydney on Monday morning in preparation for the Irish flat season commencing in just over a month but is already keen to return later in the year.
He’ll probably be seen in action back home at Dundalk, an all weather track north of Dublin, until the season proper kicks in.
“I’d love to come back but it depends on Visa requirements,’’ he said.
“I’ve had a really good experience and everyone has been really helpful and supportive.’’