Under Starters Orders - PJ McDonald

Features | 15th July 2020

The Irish jockey is a model of hard work and dedication. PJ McDonald has fought through diversity to make it to the top of British Flat racing.

Name: Patrick Joseph ‘PJ’ McDonald

Age: 38

Interesting fact: PJ started working with horses when he was 14 as a stablehand getting paid £20 a week. Fast forward a couple of decades he won nearly £17,000 in 80 seconds when winning the French Oaks.

PJ has recently reached a big milestone that puts him in an elite group of jockeys; 1,000 winners in the UKThe 1,000th victory coming at Newmarket racecourse on Friday with Zabeel Champion.


Where it all started

PJ McDonald grew up in a small village called Taghmon in County Wexford, Ireland.

Growing up PJ always knew he wanted to work with horses having got the bug when he started to ride ponies as a child.

At 14, he left school to pursue his dream of becoming a jockey. As a stablehand he worked his way up from the bottom to realise his dream.

Jump racing career

PJ didn’t enjoy a flying start to his career as a Flat jockey, only winning three out of 70 races in his first four years of riding for trainer Charles O’Brien.

PJ considered giving up aged 21 and starting a new trade. However, friend and ex-jockey Michael Cleary persuaded him to contact trainer Ferdy Murphy in England and give race riding one more shot.

PJ and Murphy developed a fruitful relationship on the track. The pinnacle for both them was winning the Scottish Grand National with Hot Weld in 2007.


PJ credits Murphy with helping him develop as a jockey, he told The Spectator that Murphy “gave me confidence, he gave me the platform and he guided me the right way. I cannot thank him enough.”


PJ McDonald and Ferdy Murphy after winning the Scottish Grand National
PJ McDonald and Ferdy Murphy after winning the Scottish Grand National. Credit: Racing TV

Switch back to Flat

Ferdy Murphy urged PJ to start riding on the Flat to keep fit and toughen up. PJ was so successful on the Flat he made a permanent switch and began working with trainer Alan Swinbank.

He loved his time in Jump racing but he enjoyed the different challenge the Flat demands. He told The Spectator, “Jumping you can get horses switched off for minutes but on the Flat split-second decisions win races”.

PJ made steady progress establishing himself as one of the leading northern-based jockeys getting plenty of rides with all the top northern trainers.

Big success in recent years

The last four years have been without doubt the best in his career. PJ’s first big winner on the Flat came in the 2016 Yorkshire Cup with Clever Cookie where he was somewhat fortunate with booked rider Danny Tudhope getting injured 24 hours before.

PJ took the opportunity with both hands which gave him a springboard to get more regular rides in the top races.

Following up on his big breakthrough, PJ enjoyed four Group race wins in 2017 including the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup on Montaly and the Group 1 Fillies’ Mile with Laurens.

Since then, PJ has been known for being a talented and reliable rider in big races and across a whole season. He’s hit over 100 winners and multiple Group race wins over the last three years.

Frankie Dettori gets to grips with PJ McDonald, after PJ pips Frankie to Top Jockey of Glorious Goodwood 2019

The famous horse he’s ridden and arguably the best is superstar filly Laurens. The pair have won four Group 1 races as well as the French Oaks.

Congratulations on your 1000 winners PJ!