James McDonald eyes Japanese domination with ‘unbelievable’ Romantic Warrior

Kiwi ace James McDonald is confident Romantic Warrior can continue his Group One winning spree when the Danny Shum Chap-shing-trained galloper lines up in the Yasuda Kinen (1,600m) at Tokyo racecourse on Sunday.

McDonald will ride in Japan for the first time in a decade when he hops aboard Romantic Warrior, who bids for a fifth consecutive elite-level win on his first visit to the Land of the Rising Sun.

The 32-year-old rider has been an ever-present force during Romantic Warrior’s sublime campaign and he believes his partner in crime is ready to shine on the world stage as he steps back to a mile for the first time since January last year.

“It’s going to be unreal to go over there with such a good horse and it’s a great opportunity for Romantic Warrior to showcase how good he is over in Japan,” said McDonald, who flies to Japan on Monday to reunite with Romantic Warrior in the lead-up to Sunday’s race.

“This horse doesn’t know how to run badly, he’s unbelievable. It’s something I’ve never come across before – the constitution he has, the willingness he has.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve and even if he’s getting beaten it’s only by the smallest of margins. His record speaks for itself, he’s a winner.”

McDonald’s only experience of riding in Japan came in November 2014, with the New Zealander failing to return to the winner’s enclosure from five rides in the World Super Jockeys Series.

Both rider and horse are set to enter unknown territory as they take on a selection of Japan’s finest milers in their own backyard, but McDonald is confident Romantic Warrior can acclimatise to his surroundings better than he did in Australia before October’s Group One Cox Plate (2,040m).

Romantic Warrior gallops on the Sha Tin turf earlier this month.

“I think he’ll travel to Japan better than how he travelled to Australia because he looks unbelievable, he’s in great form and his condition is holding well,” McDonald said. “He’s just an absolute brute, nothing fazes him and he’s the ultimate professional.

“He’s beaten up all the Japanese before on his home ground so hopefully he can go over there and beat them up again.”

Romantic Warrior got the better of three Japanese gallopers in last month’s Group One QE II Cup (2,000m) and faces a tough task against a host of rivals including Soul Rush and Serifos, who finished fourth and seventh, respectively, in December’s Group One Hong Kong Mile.

The son of Acclamation also faces Voyage Bubble and will aim to repeat his triumph over the Ricky Yiu Poon-fai-trained five-year-old in February’s Group One Gold Cup (2,000m) at Sha Tin.

“We obviously have our question marks and the biggest question mark is him going back to a mile, but hopefully a strong-run race will look after that and he’ll be there when the whips are cracking,” McDonald said.

“His best wins have been in fast-run races and generally when it’s a fast-run race, the best horse wins. That just shows he’s superior to the rest.

“I’ve been lucky enough to experience all types of wins with Romantic Warrior. A flamboyant win in his first Hong Kong Cup, tough and gritty for his second Hong Kong Cup, tenacious for the Cox Plate and just down and out fighting like a bulldog in the QE II. I was a little bit in disbelief how good that performance was and how he lifted off the canvas.”

McDonald eyes an astonishing 97th Group One victory on Sunday as he looks to continue his excellent year in the saddle.



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