James McDonald is back in the zone. Part of that chest beating he gave himself as he, standing bolt upright in the saddle, and Astern flashed over the line to win Saturday's A$1 million Golden Rose at Rosehill had many elements.

Yes, one was for winning Australia's first million-dollar race for the season. Another, doing it for his boss Sheikh Mohammed. Yet another - and perhaps the most important - was that it was for himself.

Here we had a tiny kid off a Cambridge farm, who, from day one just a decade back when showing us he was the new, you beaut good thing, looked impervious to the monumental pressures of racing at the sharp end.

What has probably not been properly acknowledged is the enormity of McDonald, at such a young age, landing one of the most precious riding contracts on the planet - Sheikh Mohammed's No 1 Southern Hemisphere jockey.


However, with that comes monumental responsibility and pressure. Even if the Sheikh has a few thousand oil wells back in Dubai and horse racing is his abiding passion, you cannot put together a 500-horse operation worldwide without expectations of winning the big ones. He has already spent a fortune trying to win a Melbourne Cup, a couple of seconds the best so far.

Maybe McDonald is not quite so bulletproof in the pressure stakes. He admitted yesterday he was not enjoying his riding back this autumn and early winter. The juices were drying up just before he went on his annual two-month working holiday in Europe.

"I was unhappy because I wasn't meeting my own goals, so getting over to Europe came at the right time. I needed to get away and it has really helped me."

McDonald describes Australian racing at the top end as "a fishbowl".

"If you live in that environment, you get caught up in it. You have to from time to time get away from it."

He rode 19 winners in Europe, but the real pleasure came from the simple change of scenery.

The spark is back. "I haven't felt like this for a while. It is just good to be going to the races."

This is a game in which you never stop learning and McDonald says he is grateful for the experience in riding out mornings for trainers of class like Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden. It taught him, he says, the importance of keeping your horse relaxed.

"Here in Australia you travel only a couple of hundred metres to the start, but in England it can be a mile away, so you have to keep your horses as relaxed as possible to avoid running your race before going into the barriers.

"It's an important lesson."

Watch the vision of Saturday's Golden Rose and you can almost hear the sigh of relief McDonald let go as he crossed the finish.

"I'm relaxed and fresh and back in a good frame of mind."

Yes, winning million dollar races can do that for you. But McDonald admits the Melbourne Cup is at the top of every jockeys' mountain.

Million dollar grin

• James McDonald gets his spring campaign off on right foot by winning Rosehill feature.

• He feels reinvigorated after riding in England for a couple of months.

• Now he is hoping for a good mount in race very hoop wants on the CV: the Melbourne Cup.