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 Australian Racing News 
Friday, June 16 2017

Even if Craig Williams never rode another winner he would still head into retirement with a CV most jockeys would be envious of.

More than 1500 winners, almost 50 of them at Group 1 level - featuring a couple of Cox Plates and Caulfield Cups, plus a Golden Slipper - with those elite-level wins spread across six countries.

He's also won the Roy Higgins Medal, the gong for the Victorian Metropolitan Jockeys' Premiership winner, five times.

There is no monetary gain for that award, just bragging rights and a spot on the honour roll named after one of the greatest jockeys Australia has ever seen.

Clearly, that is enough for Williams. He is once again entrenched in a battle for the title, locked on 63 wins apiece with rising star Beau Mertens, and has put on hold an overseas family holiday until a winner has been decided when the season concludes on July 31.

Word has it that he works the phones more feverishly than at any other point of the season when he is in premiership contention.

Oddly, the coverage the race for the Roy Higgins Medal generates can grate with racing fans, but Williams' attitude should be seen as an opportunity for punters.

Being involved in the premiership battle clearly brings out the best in him. He had to settle for second position two years ago, but still rode plenty of winners late in the season to finish just two wins behind Damien Oliver, and last year gave Dwayne Dunn a seven-win head-start with around two months to play before reeling him in then pulling away to win by four.

Ominously for Mertens, the 40-year-old looks to be working into a similar run of form this year.

After an uncharacteristically quiet spring, when he failed to add to his Group 1 tally, Williams was the standout performer of Victoria's late-summer, Autumn Carnival, riding 25 metro wins between January 18 and March 17.

But he rode just three winners in Melbourne during April and May. Admittedly, he spent many Saturdays in either Sydney or Adelaide - where he rode four winners on Goodwood Day - but still maintained a presence at the Victorian mid-week meetings.

Williams has already doubled his April/May tally in June, including a double at Sandown last Wednesday and a treble at Saturday's venue a fortnight ago.

His agent Mark Guest has got him rides in all nine races on Saturday, six of them at single-figure odds with CrownBet at midday Friday, including favourites Miss Vista (Race 3), Highland Beat (Race 6) and Hursley (Race 7).

It's an enviable book, but seemingly no better than the engagements Mertens' manager Phillip Roost has been able to gather for his client.

Mertens rides one of the shortest-priced runners of the day - $3.20 chance If Not Now When (Race 2) - plus other favourites Data Point (Race 8) and Leodoro (Race 9).

He also rides second elects Speak Softly (Race 1) and Whistle Baby (Race 5) along with single-figure chances Palladian (Race 6) and Coldstone (Race 7).

Mertens' momentum halted with suspensions that caused him to miss back-to-back Saturday meetings in May while Williams was off chasing interstate riches, but he still managed a double a couple of weeks ago and rode a winner last Saturday at Flemington.

The young gun will go up favourite when jockey challenge markets are finalised on Saturday morning and whether he lives up to that billing is likely to have a big bearing on whether he can become just the fifth apprentice to win the metro title since World War II.                                              

Posted by: AT 05:55 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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