Williams Aiming For Magnificent Seven

7 min read
When it comes to the Melbourne Cup, it appears that Lloyd Williams and his team of partners, including son Nick, just can’t have too much of a good thing.

Williams has already owned six Cup winners, starting with Just A Dash (Aus) (Whiskey Road) in 1981 and including the last two, Almandin (Ger) (Monsun {Ger}) and Rekindling (GB) (High Chaparral {Ire}).

While Almandin was purchased privately in Germany from his breeder Baron Georg von Ullmann of Gestut Schlenderhan, Rekindling being in the Williams ownership is the result of an increasingly notable association with the team at Ballydoyle in Ireland.

Last year’s winner was of course trained by Joseph O’Brien but it his father Aidan who has masterminded the careers to date of the two horses who will run in the Williams colours on Tuesday.

Both sons of Galileo (Ire), whose extraordinary record is yet to include a Melbourne Cup winner, they are the favourite Yucatan (Ire) and last year’s Derby runner-up Thecliffsofmoher (formerly Cliffs Of Moher).

Nick Williams

“We've rightly or wrongly got quite a firm view on the northern hemisphere 3-year-old crop of last year. It was a very strong crop of horses, I think,” said Nick Williams at Werribee on Sunday morning.

“We just saw Enable [winning at the Breeders’ Cup] and of then you look at Cracksman, Stradivarius, Rekindling for that matter, and Thecliffsofmoher and Yucatan. They were all part of the top end of that crop and as they’ve gone into open company they’ve proven to be pretty serious horses. So we were pretty keen on them and we thought that both those horses had the profile that would fit perfectly down here."

"They both like to be on top of the ground they are resilient mentally, which I think helps with the traveling. Since the day they've been here they’ve really fitted in well.”

Yucatan not an early pick

It was during Williams’s annual visit to Royal Ascot in June that discussions started as to which of the Ballydoyle horses would travel to Australia.

At that particular stage it would have taken quite a leap of faith to feel certain about Yucatan, who had just run last in the Wolferton S. at the Royal Meeting after being beaten 49 lengths by Cracksman (GB) in the G1 Coronation Cup at Epsom. He did, however, have previous good form lines with both Thecliffsofmoher and Rekindling, and landed the G3 International S. at the Curragh in July.

His Australian debut left little doubt that the decision to bring Yucatan south had been a sound one. He rocketed up the betting for the Cup with his demolition job in the G2 Herbert Power S., in which he had Brimham Rocks (Aus) (Fastnet Rocks {Aus}) and A Prince Of Arran (GB) (Shirocco {Ger}) scrabbling to catch him as he was eased down audaciously to the line.

"Before he [Yucatan] had his setback in the middle of last year he had shown in the first half of his 3-year-old season that he was right up there with the best of them." Nick Williams

“I think before he had his setback in the middle of last year he had shown in the first half of his 3-year-old season that he was right up there with the best of them,” said Williams. “But you know he's a proper horse and once he found his form again there was no problem with him.”

Looking back on the Herbert Power, he continued, “We thought he would run well but I think if I had said to anyone that we expected him to run like that they would have wanted the men in the white coats to lock me up, but you know he was more impressive than we could ever have hoped for."

"He’s certainly come on for the race and, maybe not financially, but I think we’ve done the right thing by skipping the Caulfield Cup with him and I think he’ll run a mighty race on Tuesday, I think he’s improved.”

Yucatan winning the Herbert Power

Strategic jockey selection

With James McDonald retaining the ride on Yucatan, Ryan Moore, who won the 2014 Melbourne Cup on Protectionist (Ger), jets in from the Breeders’ Cup to ride Thecliffsofmoher, who was just less than two lengths behind Best Solution (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) when third in the G1 Caulfield Cup a fortnight ago.

“He has an association with Cliffsofmoher who is not absolutely straightforward, so I think Ryan knowing him so well is a huge advantage,” Williams explained. “Yucatan is a little bit more straightforward and I think with James McDonald you couldn’t have a better jockey, full stop.”

"He [Ryan Moore] has an association with Cliffsofmoher who is not absolutely straightforward, so I think Ryan knowing him so well is a huge advantage." - Nick Williams

Williams is also bullish about the chances of Moore’s mount. “I don’t think he’d come close to getting two miles in your neck of the woods [England] but the way we run our races down here, I think the tempo will really suit Thecliffsofmoher—he has that turn of foot,” he said.

“He has got Australia written all over him. His style to me looks like he will really suit racing here. If you look at the sectional times from the Caulfield Cup, where it was a real sit and sprint, he has run blinder from where he was in the run. They just can't run home any quicker than he did.”

The international debate

As the Victoria Racing Club celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first international winner of the Melbourne Cup, the Dermot Weld-trained Vintage Crop (GB), debate continues as to striking the perfect balance between assembling a global cast of stayers and giving enough chances to the local horses. The Williams team of course straddles both camps, being Melbourne-based owners with deep enough pockets to import some of the very best staying blood from Europe.

“We live for these races down here in spring and I think it’s the greatest carnival in the world. We are proud Melburnians and this week means a lot to us. I’ve been out here [at Werribee] every morning for three or four weeks,” said Williams.

The Melbourne Cup is a wonderful event. It’s been going for over 150 years and when they talk about the race that stops the nation, this genuinely does. I mean the schools stop to watch the race, it’s a public holiday."

"For as long as I can remember it is the race that stops the nation but the wonderful thing that Racing Victoria and the Victoria Racing Club have done is that they have taken it a step further and it’s getting close to being the race that stops the world.”

“As Australians what we really want is for the internationals to come but we don't want them to win." Nick Williams

Vintage Crop takes out the 1993 Melbourne Cup

Williams believes that Weld’s trailblazing has been a major factor in raising the international profile of the race which is now sponsored by Lexus and worth $7.3 million.

“Australia is a long way from the northern hemisphere and when Dermot did it 25 years ago, travelling horses wasn't the norm. What he’s done for this race, you know when I get up to the northern hemisphere all everyone wants to talk about is Melbourne Cup, and I think that’s fantastic.

"Look at this race this year—you’ve got a horse owned by Khalid Abdullah, horses owned by Sheikh Mohammed, you’ve got the Magnier family and the Niarchos family." Nick Williams

“As Australians what we really want is for the internationals to come but we don't want them to win. But look at this race this year—you’ve got a horse owned by Khalid Abdullah, horses owned by Sheikh Mohammed, you’ve got the Magnier family and the Niarchos family. There's not many bigger names in racing in the world and for them to be represented in this race shows where it has gone on a world scale and I think all credit must go to Racing Victoria and to the VRC for getting this race to that level.”

A world-class race it has become, but in aiming for win number seven, the Williams family will be hoping that the Cup once again stays where it belongs, at home in Melbourne.