By Ray Hickson
Champion jockey Craig Williams is known for leaving no stone unturned when it comes to winning a big race and making the trip to Albury on Sunday to ride Bianco Vilano is part of his mission to win the $1 million Newhaven Park Country Championships Final in April.
Williams admits the Country Championships concept is something he’s still learning about but he said when a trainer like Ron Stubbs calls he’s more than happy to oblige.
It’s a big coup for the Albury Racing Club to have Williams, a winner of 75 Group 1 races, riding at Sunday’s meeting and the popular jockey said he’s looking forward to it.
“The main reason for coming up is to get Bianco Vilano qualified and then have a nice option going towards the Country Championships,’’ Williams said.
“It’s a fantastic initiative and I fully support and endorse these concepts for sure. There’s so much that goes into these races.
“Ron Stubbs is a master horseman and I’ve had really good success every time he rings up when he’s bringing a horse over the border.
“We start looking towards the Championships because it’s a major fixture throughout the yearly calendar.
“So, to give ourselves the best opportunity to get the best rides over the Sydney autumn, sometimes you’ve got to do these trips.
“I must admit the Albury Racing Club has been very supportive, and contributed to me coming up because it’s not easy to get there.”
Bianco Vilano is the defending champion in the $150,000 Newhaven Park SDRA Country Championships (1400m), he stormed to victory under jockey Jason Lyon a year ago before running fourth in the Final behind Sizzle Minizzle.
Stubbs, who will also saddle up Bianco Vilano’s year older full brother Baledon in the race, has had to meticulously plan the five-year-old’s preparation to have a second chance at Country Championships glory.
The gelding arrives at the race with five wins from 20 starts – right on the cut off for eligibility – and Williams has now had the benefit of riding him a couple of times including in his major lead up race.
That was in Melbourne back on January 27 and while he finished ninth of 10, beaten just under four lengths, he clearly did more than enough to please Williams.
“The other day Ron just said the 1200m, especially at Moonee Valley, would be just too short for him,’’ he said.
“He looked a bit plain when you’ve got the second horse just in front of you and they drop you but if you watch him through the line I was like, wow, he needs further.
“He’s not a young horse and he’s got his own ideas so the more I’m riding him the more I start understanding his mannerisms as well.
“So we’ll end up getting the best result from him.”
Bianco Vilano is currently a $26 chance in TAB's Newhaven Park Country Championships Final market.
Bianco Vilano wins the 2023 SDRA Country Championships
Albury Racing Club CEO Steve Hetherton said it’s a massive thrill to have Williams riding on Country Championships day and he’s hoping to have the jockey available to meet racegoers during the meeting.
It’s set to be a big few weeks for the club with Gai Waterhouse confirmed to attend the launch of the Albury Cup Carnival on March 1.
“What I know about Craig is he will come to the meeting and probably have stuff to hand out to the kids,’’ Hetherton said.
“I’ve sat back and reflected (on Craig attending) and he could have turned around, with all the transport issues, and said it was all too hard but he didn’t. That’s huge.”