Uncle and niece duo set sights on NSW hat-trick at Parkes

Scone jockey Sarah McDonough and her uncle and Wangaratta trainer Steve Cunningham will be hoping Miss Brondolino can make it a hat-trick of wins at Parkes on Saturday. Image – Bradley Photos.

Wangaratta-based trainer Steve Cunningham and his niece and Scone-based apprentice Sarah McDonough will look to continue their successful run of form when venturing to Parkes on Saturday. 

Cunningham will make the 11-hour round trip across the border with the in-form Miss Brondolino and stablemate Valjeta.

McDonough, who will make the eight-hour round trip from the Hunter, was in the saddle when Miss Brondolino comfortably broke her maiden over 1000m at Adaminaby on November 18 before franking that form with a classy win in the 1000 Benchmark 45 Handicap at Cooma on December 2. 

On Saturday, the five-year-old steps up in class, taking on more experienced gallopers in the 1000m Benchmark 50 handicap.

Despite being allotted 60kg, she will only carry 57kg after McDonough’s claim, and connections have drawn well with gate four. 

“I can’t see why she won’t run another good race,” McDonough said. 

“She is an easy horse to ride and puts herself right up there.

“I thought her win at Cooma was good, and she felt like she had improved from her win at Adaminaby, and I knew she had won at the top of the straight.

“With a good barrier and getting in with 57kg, she is only up half-a-kilo more than Cooma, and I think she gets in nice; she will be right in there and definitely around the mark.”

McDonough could be in for a big day at Parkes, with Cunningham sending four-time winner Valjeta around in the 1200m Benchmark 50 Handicap. 

A winner at Wangaratta, Wodonga, and Bendigo while under Cunningham’s care, the six-year-old has been racing in much stronger company since returning from a 21-week spell.

First up, the Fighting Sun mare finished third, beaten less than half-a-length, in the 1000m Benchmark 58 Handicap at Seymour on November 17 before finishing eighth when beaten 4.6 lengths in a 955m Benchmark 64 Handicap at Moonee Valley on December 1.

After the apprentice’s claim, Valjeta will carry 59.5kg, and connections again draw nicely with gate four. 

“Steve had her in at Cooma, but with the rain, we didn’t know if that meeting would go ahead, so he elected to run her the night before at Moonee Valley in case the races were off,” McDonough said. 

“She threw her head up at the start and hit her jockey in the face but ran on well over 955m.

“At Cooma, people told me I would’ve had a double if Steve didn’t scratch the horse, but that’s racing, and he is happy with her going to Parkes.

“She won’t carry huge weight after the claim, and she is sort of in a nice spot, and even if she does miss the kick over 1200m, we’ll have a bit more time to balance up, but hopefully she doesn’t do that.”

Cunningham isn’t afraid of the odd trip in NSW, having won races at Lockhart, Gilgandra, Adaminaby and Cooma in recent months, and his niece is confident they can add Parkes to the list. 

“Both horses feel good after their runs, and there’s not a whole lot of that non-TAB racing in the region until Christmas, so he thought we’d go to Parkes this weekend,” McDonough said. 

The three-kilogram claimer, who is indentured to Jeremy Gask, is only 37 rides into her career, and she started in hot form, winning three of her first ten races.

Winning at Muswellbrook for her master when guiding Croatian Madame to victory at Muswellbrook in September, the 28-year-old backed that effort up and won on the Allan Boyle-trained Mellencamp at Armidale later that month.

Then, riding for her uncle at Gilgandra in early October, McDonough landed a ‘special win’ on Westminster Abbe.

“He was originally going to the Collarenebri meeting that was called off, and he didn’t say anything to me, and I saw he had horses in, and I rang my mum and asked if Steve needed a jockey,” McDonough said.

“The Collarenebri meeting got called off, so I didn’t think I’d get to ride for my uncle for the first time, but they put the meeting on at Gilgandra, and well, we went there and won.

“It was really special to win that day for him, and that led to us teaming up at Adaminaby and Cooma, and hopefully, we can do it again at Parkes.”

McDonough outrode her four-kilo claim when bringing up the Cooma win, and she was pleased to knock over an early milestone.

“I am just taking it each week at a time,” McDonough said.

“I just wanted to get to the races and ride a winner, and when I rode my third winner, that’s when I started thinking that outriding my four-kilo claim would be my next goal.

“It’s not a massive, big deal, but it is something, and it is an achievement, and I was happy to do it.”

A latecomer to riding, McDonough found her calling when joining the Gask stable, progressing from stablehand to trackwork riding and now apprentice jockey. 

“I am really enjoying it,” McDonough said.

“I haven’t had a huge number of rides, but I’m loving every part of it; I wanted to do it for so long.

“I love doing these road trips because I get to do the job I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Plus, it is nice to pick up a few winners along the way.

“I’ve got a good boss in Jeremy, and things are getting better each time I go around.”

While the Cunningham and McDonough will chase success at Parkes, the club is preparing to host their annual Christmas meeting. 

Bar and canteen facilities, live music by Gracey Denham-Jones, and a free jumping castle for the kids will complement the five-race non-TAB program. 

Click here for more on the meeting. 

Click here for fields.