Among a decorated elite of Australian-based jockeys to have experienced Cox Plate glory, Craig Williams remains awe-struck by the two horses — Fields Of Omagh and Pinker Pinker — who catapulted him into racing history.
Bidding for a third triumph in Saturday’s $5 million weight-for-age championship aboard Humidor (to be confirmed), Williams is hopeful the veteran can emulate the deeds of Fields Of Omagh and Pinker by defying the odds.
Fields Of Omagh started at 18-1 in 2006 when, as a nine-year-old, the Lindsay Park stalwart upstaged younger and more popular rivals, while Pinker Pinker (25-1) was even less fancied in 2011 in a race dominated by Kiwi gun Jimmy Choux.
Owner of nine jockeys’ premierships, Williams always coveted Cox Plate success and first round it on Fields Of Omagh in truly remarkable circumstances.
“He had already won one Cox Plate, placed in two others and represented Australia overseas,” Williams said.
“He was just a great warhorse, nine years of age and he’s having his last start but, in sport, we know we don’t get those fairytale endings because everyone wants to win.
“I remember in the preliminaries, he got to the 600m mark, froze and looked at the stand and took it in. It was surreal. He seemed to know.
“We jumped and were further back than planned but I trusted him.
“The pressure came on from the 800m and ‘FOO’ couldn’t sprint at that time with El Segundo, who was one of the favourites in the race with Mick Price’s horse (Our Pompeii).
“I remember feeling aggrieved El Segundo took my line and sprinted past me, you could call it shutting the gate and took my line and took ‘FOO’ off his stride.
“But you could feel him react under me.
“If he could talk, he would say ‘He’s taken my line, just given me a bump and I am gonna get him back’ and 200m later, El Segundo is off in full flight.
“Sure enough, FOO got him by the barest margin by a nose.
“It was an amazing experience by a great warhorse. I was just lucky enough to ride him and I remember David Hayes and Lindsay Park being really sad a horse at the peak of his powers was going off to be retired because he’d just beaten up the best horses we had at the time.”
Also the winner in 2003, Fields Of Omagh filled placings behind Savabeel (second) and Makybe Diva (third) after finishing fifth at his first attempt behind Northerly in 2002.
Williams believes the gelding remains vacuously underrated.
“If you ask David Hayes and Lindsay Park and his owners, Bryan Martin, they’re gonna say he’s the greatest horse ever,” he said.
“I guess when we start talking about Super Impose and those other horses, he doesn’t get brought into the same conversations.
“But that’s no loss.”
Williams still shakes his head at Pinker Pinker’s bravery after the mare charged through a needle-eye opening on the home turn to run down Jimmy Choux in 2011.
“When I saw Jimmy Choux, the amazing New Zealand horse, three lengths in front at the top of the straight, I thought ‘Oh well, we’re gonna run a good second’ and I give her one reminder and encouragement to go and she just went,” he said.
“It was all her bravery. I was just lucky enough to sit on.
“I really liked that ride. The race worked out really well because she wasn’t the favourite and I had to ride her economically.
“We knew if we had to circle that quality field, we wouldn’t be winning. We wouldn’t be running top three.
“It was likely a Hollywood movie where you could just predict the action and, on cue, it happened but it couldn’t happen without her and her performance was amazing.
“She was a very willing participant and it was so smooth (taking the gap), she never made contact with anyone.
“Every time we got to the door, it opened. And if that door wasn’t opening, she was gonna knock that door down.
“When I straightened up, I thought ‘She’s gonna run a good second’ but she wanted the win. It was a very pleasing moment for a jockey on top of an underrated horse. She was awesome.”
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