By Brendan Rees
Cranbourne-born jockey Craig Williams has etched his name in the history books after clinching Australia’s greatest race.
The 42 year-old finally had his breakthrough Melbourne Cup win in his 15th attempt after piloting home Australian-bred horse Vow and Declare at Flemington on Tuesday 5 November.
“A credit to Vow and Declare, he just gave me a beautiful ride,” the former Cranbourne primary and secondary school student told the media after the thrilling race finish.
“Danny O’Brien, the trainer, gave me no instruction, he just said trust the horse, trust you, they’ve done a great job, it’s amazing teamwork, and I can’t do it without around me.
“I’m so grateful to be given the opportunity … I will really enjoy this,” he said.
It caps off a stellar year for Cranbourne’s favourite son, who rode Dr Drill to victory in the $400,000 TAB Cranbourne Cup on 13 October.
Williams is a world-renowned rider and has won Group One races in Hong Kong, France, Dubai, the UK and Japan.
Cranbourne Turf Club chief executive Nail Bainbridge was thrilled for the champion jockey, who he described as hardworking and the “ultimate professional”.
“I think everyone involved with him in Cranbourne would be just delighted for him,“ he said. “His family, they’ve had a great association with the Cranbourne racing industry for a long time – to win his first Melbourne Cup, it’s tremendous.
“His brothers are still involved locally along with his dad,” he said, adding his nieces and nephews attended school in Cranbourne “so it’s a big family occasion”.
Mr Bainbridge said Williams had always been a good supporter of the club and “only too happy to help out”.
“He’s always out there walking the tracks, he puts in the hard yards; he deserves every success he gets,” he added.
Geoff Whiffin, chairman of the Cranbourne Turf Club, said he and his wife Nolene Whiffin were close friends with the Williams family and also used to babysit Craig as a boy.
“Craig used to come away on holidays with us… he was a big fat tubby little fella and nobody thought he’d make a jockey,” he laughed.
He described Williams’ Melbourne Cup win as a “fantastic dedication,” adding “What he seems to put his mind to he does.”
“We’re very proud of him.“
Mrs Whiffin, who went to school with Williams’ mother Glenda, added: “He’s a great ambassador for the racing industry; he’s just a true little gentleman”.
As a lad, Williams’ school nickname was ‘Willo’, and to others ‘Suey’.
“It’s short for a horse my Dad trained at the time. I was small and could run fast and the horse was small and fast, so I became Suey,” Williams told the News in 2008 after his Cranbourne Cup win on Majestical.
Williams’ family has a long and successful history in racing. He started his career as an apprentice in 1993 for his father Allan, who was also a successful jockey.
His mother, Glenda, is a daughter of veteran Cranbourne training identity, the late Tommy Harrison.
Craig was still at school when won his first Cranbourne Cup on Main Strike for his father and he remains the youngest jockey, at 17, to win the feature event.
He now has all four major racing trophies in his cabinet – adding the famous three-handled gold loving cup to his Caulfield Cups on Southern Speed and Dunaden, Cox Plates on Fields of Omagh and Pinker Pinker and Golden Slipper on Miss Finland.
He was to have ridden Dunaden in 2011 when it won the Cup but missed through suspension.
Back in 2008, after Majestical’s win in the local feature race, Williams spoke of his ambition to win Australia’s most famous race.
“I’ve won the Melbourne Cup eight times, but it’s all in my dreams,” he laughed. “It’s a race that eludes so many people. Scobie Breasley won five Caulfield Cups but never a Melbourne Cup.”
He vowed and declared he would one day win the race – and now has.