If Michael McNab can guide Pacific Dragon to victory in Saturday’s Listed Courtesy Ford Ryder Stakes (1200m) at Te Rapa it will be the icing on the cake of what has been an outstanding season for the Cambridge jockey.
McNab has secured his first National Jockeys’ Premiership title this season, advancing to 142 wins after his two victories at Riccarton on Friday. He has also set a new record for stakes earnings in a season, prizemoney of more than $3.77 million.
He goes into Saturday’s meeting with 14 black-type wins for the season, a tally he shares with Opie Bosson as the leading stakes-winning riders in the country.
“It would be good if I can win one more but it’s going to be hard on that wet track,” said McNab, who was aboard for the Tony Pike-trained Pacific Dragon’s last-start win at Ruakaka.
“She’s going really well and she’s tough which will help her get through the track and that’s a positive. She was really good last time. She was a bit slow away and did a lot of early work but she showed her toughness late.”
It has been a breakout season for McNab, whose previous best season tally was 70 wins and whose previous best stakes earning total was $1.58 million.
What makes his feats this season even more meritorious is that he has done it at a strike rate of better than one win for every five rides, a massive improvement on his previous career strike rate of one win for every 9.58 rides.
There have been other milestones along the way, such as his first century of wins in a season, his 500th win and his fifth Group One win, brought up aboard Imperatriz in the Levin Classic (1600m) at Trentham.
“It’s definitely been my best season and it’s shown what I’m capable of,” said McNab, adding that he’d taken advantage of the first COVID lockdown period to focus on his mental game, adopting a mindset of knuckling down to a goal-driven approach to his riding.
McNab credited Te Akau Racing boss David Ellis with much of his change in approach, his former boss ensuring the jockey understood how important it was for him to set the foundations for a successful future for him and his family.
He describes Ellis as an important mentor for his career and it was why his Group 1 Levin Classic (1600m) win at Trentham in March aboard the Jamie Richards-trained Imperatriz meant so much to him.
“Winning on Imperatriz was the big moment of the season. It was my fifth Group One and what made it that much more special was it was the first Group One I’d ridden in Dave’s colours,” McNab said.
“I’d won Group One races in the Fortuna colours (on Melody Belle) but to do it in the tangerine and to do it for him was very special. Dave’s one of the main reasons I am who I am now and I’ve got a lot to thank him for.”
An aspect of McNab’s premiership success that he takes great satisfaction from was his late-season battle with four-time premiership winner Lisa Allpress and that he was able to quell her challenge.
“It changed the way I applied myself. I really locked in and focused on making sure I did win,” he said.
“I’ve always had respect for Lisa. She’s an amazing jockey and she’s already been there and done that in premierships. She got the margin down to nine at one point too and I could feel her closing in.
“But the way I was able to lock in and put the premiership away a couple of weeks ago was really satisfying. I’d like to think that through that battle the mutual respect between Lisa and I has only grown.
“It’s funny but once I decided to travel and really set down to win it, I’ve just really enjoyed it. I just made it so I was in the moment every day. Instead of looking forward too much or worrying about what had happened the previous day, I made sure I was really present every day.
“If I ever get in that situation again, I know what I’m capable of achieving and that gives me a lot of confidence and says a fair bit about how far I’ve come as a rider and as a person.”
Asked what his premiership win meant to him, McNab replied: “Everything.”
He added: “I didn’t think it would ever happen so to do it is really satisfying. It really does mean a lot. Some top riders never get to do it.
“But will I stop at one? No. I’ll be trying to do it again next year.”
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