‘His ride combined bravado with bravery’
His ride combined bravado with bravery as Williams steered the Lonhro colt from gate one to the quicker grandstand rail of the Flemington straight six course. He then had to hold his nerve for the best part of 300 metres with no clear path unfolding before fearlessly pushing through a narrow gap inside the last 100 metres.
Not to mention it was simply smart. If you trust my maths and pythagoras then the diagonal of the rectangular straight course is just 1200.37 metres, which is the square root of 1200 metres plus 30 metres squared (width squared plus length squared). That’s just 37 centimetres or 14.5 inches further than the length of the course.
A horse is not, of course, going to truly track the diagonal but the point is not you’re not covering much extra ground by tracking to the other side of the course. As a kid, I was regularly told the difference was just eight inches but perhaps the track wasn’t as wide then. I’m not sure.
The records will show that Encryption wore blinkers for the first time and some may attribute the win in the Group 2 Danehill Stakes to that gear change but, in fact, it was down to Williams superb ride.
“He was creative in the way he got there,” winning trainer James Cummings said, immediately after the race, but I’m not sure if he was referring to the horse or rider.
Williams himself concedes that he had the luxury of Cummings allowing him to do as he decided. “James was happy for me to do as I wished and it was a satisfying win as I committed right from the start,” he said. “I knew the speed would head to that side and I was also mindful of being in the best spot to get some cover from what was a very gusty wind.
“In the end it was a very good win as I had to sit longer than I hoped just as it was time to stoke him up. I thought the leader (Native Soldier) might drift left as a lot of local horses do down the straight but he held his line and I had to switch course to push between him and the eventual runner-up Thorondor. I think, at least, Ben Thompson who rode Thorondor was giving me a wrap when he said ‘I win the race if you didn’t do what you did on your horse’.”.
Williams, now managed by Symon Wilde’s racing manager Jason Breen, finished in the first four on seven of his eight mounts last Saturday and says that each of the prize earners was likely worth following as he looks forward to his spring carnival gathering further momentum this weekend.
“Kementari probably didn’t quite run to his best but has still finished fourth in a Group 1 but virtually all my other horses ran really well and pending where they go I’d be happy to ride them again,” he said.
“Phillip Stokes’ pair Eclair Calling and Music Bay were very good. Eclair Calling was excellent given the step up in grade and he won’t mind a step up in distance now. Music Bay, I really like her. She was no match for the winner Smart Melody who looks very, very good to my eye but Music Bay chased strongly at her first run back and I’d think both fillies would go on..
Williams has ridden Stokes’ past four runners in Melbourne and is keen to be aboard the trainer’s Assertive Play in the Listed Jim Moloney Stakes this Saturday. “I’ve had some success for Phillip and you couldn’t help but have a good record riding for him given his great strike rate. He’s got a little boutique base here at Caulfield now and I ride work for him on a Tuesday morning.
“I galloped Assertive Play on the course proper this morning and she’s obviously come through her excellent run at Moonee Valley very well. She felt good and I’d expect her to run very well on Saturday,” he said.
Williams will ride Osborne Bulls, for Godolphin, in the day’s Group 1 feature – the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes. “He was very good when he won first-up at Caulfield which was the first time I’ve ridden him. The runner-up has since won to confirm the form and from all reports he’s done very well since that win,” Williams said.
“The Godolphin team, under James, just looks so strong at the moment from the young horses all the way through to the stayers like Avilius and I’m very happy to be on board Osborne Bulls.”
Williams was also impressed with the two Japanese imports he rode at Flemington – Kimono, who finished third to Dothraki and Danon Roman, who finished in the same placing behind the much spruiked Furrion.
“Kimono was a bit fractious in the gates, a touch slow to begin and a bit keen in the run so overall I though his effort was very good. He’ll definitely win some good races. I was also impressed with Danon Roman. Whatever he does this prep will be a bonus as I understand they’re going to give him a light campaign and focus on next autumn when he’s better acclimatised. He did give me an extra good feeling,” he said.
NOT THE FIRST TIME
Williams was not the first, of course, to win a race down the straight course by switching sides but it’s rare – especially when you’ve drawn barrier one in a relatively large field.
I recall one previous example, which was Steven Arnold – now commentating on Racing.com – steering The Big Chill, trained by Russell Cameron, from gate one to the outside fence to win the Listed Cadbury Roses at Flemington on Oaks Day in 2001. Two races later, as an aside, Arnold claimed the Group 1 VRC Oaks on the Bart Cummings trained Magical Miss.
Williams rode in the race which The Big Chill won, while James Cummings’ right hand man Darren Beadman was aboard Li Lo Lill who finished third to Magical Miss in the Oaks. For the record, Scott Seamer was aboard the runner-up Manang.
And further for the record, I know that I will be disinclined to take on Craig Williams in any memory test or racing trivia. “Yes, I remember The Big Chill,” he told me, “I reckon she won on debut at Bendigo just before winning that Listed race at Flemington with Steven aboard. I went to Bendigo that day mainly to ride one for Leigh Hope called Terrenora.
“She finished second and then The Big Chill won the second race. I remember my friend Vaughan Somers, the professional golfer, drove me to Bendigo that day and he told me he backed The Big Chill because he got a tip from my aunty, so I remember that horse,” he said.
A quick check of Racing Australia archives shows that all of the above racing facts are accurate – and presumably the story of Somers’ bet.
Twelve months earlier, Arnold had ridden his first Group 1 winner – All Time High in the Thousand Guineas while Williams also landed his first win at the highest level in that same year having won the Australasian Oaks on Grand Echezeaux.