Twelve years ago when James McDonald was growing up on a Cambridge horse and dairy farm he dreamed of the day he might win a $7000 race at Ellerslie.

Today, he is a live chance to ride the winner of the greatest staying race on the planet, the A$6.2 million Emirates Melbourne Cup.

McDonald, 24, rides the $5 favourite Hartnell for his employer, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai.

The Sydney-based proud New Zealander has had a meteoric rise to be widely regarded as one of the world's best, but he is as modest as he is good.


It's the secret to his success in a game that has seen almost equally talented youngsters end up broke and in the gutter because of ego and disrespect for money.

So, what would success mean to McDonald at Flemington this afternoon, asked the Herald as McDonald tried to get his head around mission impossible - relaxing on Cup Eve.

"Well, I can't really describe it other than it's every jockey's dream. Not just here in Australia and New Zealand, all around the world.

"The Melbourne Cup has gone to a different level than 20 years ago. It's now the race the whole world wants to win."

And that includes Sheikh Mohammed who, despite being one of the world's wealthiest, is Melbourne Cup winless after 18 years and countless millions in trying. The Sheikh's royal blue colours have finished second in 1999, 2001 and 2009.

"I'll be gobsmacked and I won't be surprised what comes out of my mouth if I win," says McDonald, "but I promise I won't do a Dean Yendall."

He was referring to Yendall's comments on television moments after the Victorian lightweight won Saturday's A$500,000 group one Myer Classic. Asked how he felt, Yendall said: "I have a raging horn."

Surprisingly, chief steward Terry Bailey imposed no penalty on Yendall, other than a warning about language.

No, being brought up on a Waikato farm solicits better behaviour.