Craig Williams says Dunaden can defend Vase title
HK latest stop for worldwide winner Williams, and he says Vase champion is ready to retain title
Australian jockey Craig Williams has slowly invaded that exclusive space, occupied by only a few elite riders with a record of getting the job done when the pressure is on - a space where the phone calls come to fly around the world to ride in some of the world's best and richest races.
Often a successful visitor to Japan whenever he isn't at home in Melbourne or Sydney for the Group One carnivals, he has also landed big wins in Hong Kong and Dubai as he spent the past 18 months collecting majors and is quietly bullish about his chances of adding one or two more at Sha Tin on Sunday.
Yesterday, Williams put defending Longines Hong Kong Vase hero Dunaden through his paces in what looked almost an action replay of the Mikel Delzangles-trained stayer's preparation in 2011.
"He's had a similar preparation to last year and the plan was to do similar work today and I was happy with him," Williams said. "It was his first big piece of work here, so I took my time and wasn't worried about the clock.
"But he switched onto his right leg in the straight, finished it off, then pulled up having a good puff but recovered very quickly. He was on his wrong leg for most of the work after being in Melbourne, running the other way, but I think it was important to get him under pressure right-handed again, just to fine-tune him for Sunday."
And the winner of the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups, as well as the Vase in the past 13 months or so, seems to be getting quicker.
"Perhaps he was fresher than last year, but the way he feels I wouldn't have minded if he was running in the Cup," Williams said.
"You think back a year, the worry was that he might be too dour coming back from 3,200m to 2,400m, but the way he feels, I think he wouldn't be out of his distance range in a 2,000m race now. He just seems sharper."
One of those phone calls this year to ride in a big event on the other side of the globe came for the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot, when Dunaden looked unlucky to finish second to Vase rival Sea Moon, and Williams said the English stayer was still the rival he feared for Sunday.
"We should have been much, much closer in the Hardwicke, sure, but I don't think my horse has ever beaten Sea Moon so I can't be totally confident we would have then - he's the horse to beat," he said.
Williams also climbs aboard Alcopop in the Cup after taking the Mackinnon Stakes on him during Melbourne Cup week, and he thinks the Australian gelding might be flying under the radar.
"He hasn't been this direction for a long time but he handled it perfectly and felt right at home doing it - it was nice work and I'd say he's right where you'd want him to be," the jockey said.
"Jake Stephens says he is really happy with him and the encouraging thing is that this has not been an afterthought. Jake had it in my mind all along this campaign and trained him that way, but he was realistic and knew that Alcopop had to win a Group One to get invited," Williams said.
"The Mackinnon ticked that box, and he's got the form line through Dunaden with the second in the Caulfield Cup, albeit in a handicap.
"But Australian horses have often come here after they've had their grand final at home and it doesn't work, you won't beat top horses which have targeted the race - but this is Alcopop's grand final and that gives me some confidence."