Dundeel impresses McDonald

James McDonald, fresh from success in England and Singapore, was back on his favourite horse at the Cambridge track this morning.

McDonald went to the track especially to ride his Gr.1 ATC Derby victor Dundeel and he was left awestruck after riding the four-times Gr.1 winner in a gallop with stablemate Orion.Working on the No.4 grass, Dundeel and Orion, an impressive winner of his sole start, hit out strongly over the final 600 metres of their work in 39.7 seconds.

“He felt amazing,” said McDonald. “We sat off Orion. He was very relaxed and when I let him go, the turn of foot he had was brilliant. And that was without blinkers.

“He showed more brilliance than before and he gave me the impression he could even be hard to beat at 1400 metres fresh-up. He feels even better than last campaign.”

It was the first time McDonald had seen Dundeel since the pair combined for a runaway win in the ATC Derby at Randwick on April 13. The Derby victory completed a clean sweep of the Sydney Triple Crown for Dundeel and McDonald, having earlier won both the Randwick and Rosehill Guineas.

Co-trainer Murray Baker confirmed he is tossing up between the Gr.1 $A350,000 Memsie Stakes, over 1400m at Caulfield on August 31, and the Gr.1 $A350,000 Makybe Diva Stakes, over 1600 at Flemington a week later as the launching pad for Dundeel’s four-year-old campaign. “Being a stallion, every race counts,” said Baker. “I’ll leave it closer to the time to see which ones suit him better.”

McDonald says he wouldn’t be surprised to see Dundeel (who races in Australia as Its A Dundeel) win the Memsie Stakes.

“He’s a genuine mile and a quarter (2000m) horse, who stretches to 12 furlongs (2400m), but the way he feels, he’s capable of 1400m with his class,” said McDonald. “It would just depend on whether there is an outstanding sprinter up against him.”

Baker says Dundeel has not only matured, but grown during his break. “He’s definitely grown,” he said. “He has been measured twice and he’s now 15.3 hands (high). He looks great.”

McDonald immediately noticed the change in Dundeel’s size when he saw him this morning for the first time since ATC Derby day.

“He’s grown for sure,” said McDonald. “I hopped on him and he feels bigger. Orion is not a small horse, but six months ago he’d be looking down on Dundeel, but that’s not the case now.”

He was also impressed by Dundeel’s action in his work. “His action was always quite short and choppy starting off, but he’s carrying himself a lot better now,” he said.

Dundeel’s major mission this spring will be the Gr.1 Cox Plate at Moonee Valley and Baker is planning to give him three lead-up races. After either the Memsie or Makybe Diva Stakes he will tackle the Gr.1 $A400,000 Underwood Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield on September 21, then the Gr.1 $A400,000 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) on the same track on October 12.

“I’ve won the Underwood Stakes twice before, with The Phantom and Lion Tamer, and it’s a good lead-up for Dundeel,” said Baker.

Dundeel is qualified for the Gr.1 Melbourne Cup and is likely to be entered for the Flemington feature, but there is no certainty he will compete. “The Cox Plate is his main target and it’ll be up to the owners whether we have a go at the Melbourne Cup,” said Baker.

Dundeel will have Orion as a travelling companion to Melbourne. “We decided to put him (Orion) aside and wait with him,” said Baker. “I think he’s a very good horse and he’ll kick off at the end of August in Aussie. If he comes up as well as I think he will, he could go for the Caulfield Guineas. But he’s got to do a bit before then to get in it.”

Both Dundeel and Orion will either have a jumpout at Cambridge or go to the Te Teko trials on August 6 to ready them for their Australian campaigns.