Williams and Lemaire, forever connected

Horseracing has to be the most mercurial sport in the world. One minute you are flying high only to be plunged in the depths of despair the next. The 2011 edition of the Melbourne Cup is the perfect example.

Australian top jockey Craig Williams was enjoying the best season of his career and was on the brink of rewriting the history books after having lifted not only the Caulfield Cup but also the Group One Cox Plate, when six days before Australia’s biggest racing event he was hit with a suspension that effectively ruled him out of the Melbourne Cup.

What was bad luck for Craig Williams, was a stroke of luck for French ace Christophe Lemaire who flew in from Japan to replace him on the French-trained Dunaden, who duly won the Melbourne Cup by the smallest of margins.

Following that victory, one might be forgiven for thinking that the relationship between these two great jockeys had to be strained. However, that was and is not the case. Quite the opposite actually. In fact, the two jockeys, who are going to compete against each other this Thursday and Friday in the third Meydan Masters, are not only colleagues but real friends.

“I have known Christophe for a long time”, confirms Williams. “We have been travelling the world to Japan, France and now here. I know his wife Barbara very well who made my wife very welcome when we met up at the International in Japan. They are just very nice people.”

You sense he really means it from the heart when he adds: “People keep on saying that the Melbourne Cup should have been mine, but I think Dunaden got a great ride by Christophe. To recreate that type of ride again, a jockey would have to be at their absolute best to recapture the ride Christophe gave Dunaden in the Melbourne Cup.”

Williams missed out in Australia, but he was back on board Dunaden when he won the Hong Kong Vase. And no one cheered louder than Christophe Lemaire, who as the HH Aga Khan’s jockey had been obliged to ride Vadamar in that same race.

“I only saw Dunaden’s backside,” smiles Christophe Lemaire. “I didn’t think that Dunaden would win in Hong Kong, as there were some other good horses in the race, but he did and it was great.” And he goes on to explain: “Some horses really improve during the winter, as we saw with Gloria de Campeão who loved Dubai and won the Dubai World Cup two years ago. So I was really happy for Craig when he won in Hong Kong. Craig is a great sportsman and I was glad that it worked out for him.”

Asked who was going to ride Dunaden in next year’s Melbourne Cup, both started laughing and proved not only to be great horsemen, but also impressive diplomats. Lemaire said: “Well, it will depend on our availabilities and commitments”, while Williams added: “It will be hard to get Christophe off him, but I’m hoping that HH the Aga Khan will have a horse in it.”

Friendly rivalry is on the cards and that will also be their motto when they compete in the Masters over the next couple of days. While Christophe rode at the Carnival last year, Williams’s last visit to Dubai was three years ago and hence he will be discovering the Meydan track for the first time.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s just great, isn’t it?”

And Lemaire confirmed: “To ride in these kind of competitions means riding against the best jockeys in the world. And it also means that our efforts have been recognised. It is very rewarding and we all look forward to it very much.”