Leading Melbourne jockey Craig Williams celebrated his return to Australia on Saturday by bringing up Peter Moody’s 100th city winner of the season.
The four time Victorian jockey’s premiership winner showed no signs of rustiness in his first day back riding in Melbourne since Anzac Day, after a two month riding odyssey in Japan.
Known for his ability to get the best out of horses, Williams was in the money in just second race back, kicking home 40-1 shot De Arias into third place. He narrowly missed out on winning on Galileo Gold before saluting the judge with Testascana for Moody.
This year was the second in a row that Williams had decided to spend early part of the Melbourne winter riding in Japan on a two month contract.
It is notoriously difficult for overseas jockeys to get licenses to ride in Japan, and it is testament to how highly Williams is rated internationally that he has been able to do it two years in a row.
Williams’ stint in Japan saw him salute the judge on a dozen occasions, including in the Group One NHK Mile aboard three year old Grand Prix Boss.
“It might look like beer and skittles riding in Japan but it’s tough and demanding,” Williams said.
“The racing is hard and the language barrier is always there and my family is back home in Melbourne, but I enjoy the challenge that it gives me.
“I can now say about 24 words in Japanese and that’s enough for me to get fed, find my way around and to seek any help I might need on the racetrack.”
Williams said the reason we are not seeing the top Japanese horses in Australia was not because they weren’t up to the grade of racing in Australia, rather it was the strict quarantine laws that were turning Japanese owners off coming to Australia.
“There was a real push for horses to come here for the Cox Plate while I was over there but there is also so much competition now for the best racehorse in the world,” he said.
“While I was there the Japanese Racing Association announced a link with the Breeders Cup races and there are plenty of other options around the same time and I know the Japanese a very keen to win the Arc as well, so there are plenty of options offering more suitable quarantine rules for the owners of the best horses.”
In a mark of how much he is respected by Victorian trainers, Williams picked up seven on Saturday for seven different Victorian trainers.
To illustrate how well Williams has ridden in the past 12 months, he currently sits second behind Luke Nolen in the Victorian jockey’s premiership, despite the fact that he missed two month’s worth of rides while he was in Japan. Nolen also rides for Victoria’s best trainer (Peter Moody), whereas Williams is unattached.
Williams returned from Japan slightly heavier at 52kg, however he is confident that he will be able to ride at 50kg when the big spring weight for age races roll around.