James McDonald tends to shy away from the accolades that have him marked down as the next star of Australian racing.
But he doesn’t mind giving out the praise for his Melbourne Cup 2012 mount Fiorente, a horse he strongly believes can give Gai Waterhouse her first winner in Australia’s greatest race.
The 20-year-old New Zealander who is now resident in Sydney, rode Fiorente at Werribee on Friday in the strongest and most impressive gallop he’s had since arriving from England almost two weeks ago.
“He’s improved out of sight every day he’s been here,” McDonald said.
“He looks great, he’s working fantastic and he’s in on a light weight.
“There’s no reason he can’t win.”
Fiorente has won only twice from nine starts in England where he was trained by Sir Michael Stoute.
The first victory came in a maiden at his second start, but his latest, in a 2400m Group Two race at Newmarket, earned him a $1 million-plus price tag and a Melbourne Cup start.
In the Newmarket race he had one of England’s form horses of the season, Joshua Tree, behind him in second place and last year’s Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux in third.
Like his rider, if not his trainer, Fiorente, has ducked the limelight at Werribee where he’s been one of the last horses among the 17-strong international band to appear on the track each morning.
He has also taken a back-seat to his future stablemate Glencadam Gold in Cup discussions and has become a largely unwanted $26 chance in Tuesday’s race.
Waterhouse, not surprisingly, rates him an outstanding prospect, declaring her introduction to the horse as “love at first sight”.
“And he can gallop too,” she said.
“He has tremendous potential. As soon as I saw him I had to have him.”
McDonald piloted Fiorente over 1600m at Werribee on Friday and gave the impression the potential identified by his trainer is emerging.
“He bowled over 1600 metres, worked into the corner really well and when I gave him a squeeze up the straight he extended like a really good horse,” he said.
“To have a live chance in the race is fantastic.”