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 UK. The 1,000th victory coming at Newmarket racecourse on Friday with Zabeel Champion.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Sadly, no Yorkshire Cup at @yorkracecourse today. We will be recalling some recent winners of the Group 2 feature today, starting with 2016 winner Clever Cookie.#DanteMeetingMemories #RacingTVFlashback @P_Nivenracing 🐎 pic.twitter.com/jNwSfkt3yp— Racing TV (@RacingTV) May 15, 2020
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.
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!