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Having experienced the high pressure of riding a Cox Plate favourite, this year James McDonald is happy to be the underdog.

The 23-year-old finished eighth aboard top fancy It’s A Dundeel in the 2013 renewal.

McDonald is looking forward to riding Criterion and is enjoying the fact the horse has largely flown under the radar.

“In this kind of race it’s a good card to play,” he said.

“Instead of being the hunted, you’re the hunter.”

McDonald scored a last-minute call up to ride the David Payne-trained four-year-old at Moonee Valley.

The Sydney-based New Zealander picked up the mount after champion jockey Hugh Bowman lost his appeal against an improper riding suspension.

“It’s obviously at the expense of a great friend of mine, but look, someone’s got to fill in and I’m the lucky one,” McDonald said.

McDonald sat on the entire for the first time this week, and said he felt unbelievable.

“His preparation has been great, he takes time to find form, so he’s peaking for the right day,” McDonald said.

McDonald has a big weekend ahead, jetting to Singapore straight after the Cox Plate meeting to ride in the Group One Raffles Cup on Sunday.

He still hasn’t recovered from a Caulfield Cup defeat last weekend when his mount Rising Romance was beaten a long neck by Japanese stayer Admire Rakti.

McDonald said he’d never been so devastated in his professional life.

“You think you’ve won a big race and then it crumbles in front of you,” he said.

But this year’s Sydney jockeys’ premiership winner feels stronger after he wasted last week to ride the mare at 53kg.

He considers the Caulfield Cup among one of his best rides, a confidence he’ll need leading into the Cox Plate.

 
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