Williams buoyed by Shillelagh ahead of Cup

Shillelagh (green/yellow), the only mare in the Australian Cup, will be ridden by Craig Williams.

A keen form student, jockey Craig Williams says the Australian Cup is an intriguing race with a number of different form lines meeting at Flemington.

Williams rides the Chris Waller-trained Shillelagh, the only mare in Saturday’s Group One race, and said she had chased the ride after watching her at Flemington last spring.

After winning the Empire Rose Stakes at Flemington on the opening day of the Melbourne Cup carnival, Shillelagh returned a week later to finish an unlucky fifth behind Trap For Fools in the Mackinnon Stakes (2000m).

Saturday’s race is over the same course and distance as Shillelagh tries to become the first mare since Makybe Diva in 2005 to win..

“I wanted the ride on her because of her performance in the Mackinnon Stakes last spring,” Williams said.

“I thought that run showed that Flemington, over 10 furlongs, at weight-for-age, she could mix it with our best horses.”

Shillelagh has had two runs in her autumn campaign, beating one home in the C F Orr Stakes at Caulfield on February 9 before running sixth to Avilius in the Peter Young Stakes two weeks later.

Williams saw in that run she was on track towards the Australian Cup.

“I thought her last run at Caulfield showed me she was right on the mark,” Williams said.

“Her piece of work on Tuesday I was very happy with and when you go back through her form her two Group One wins have both been at Flemington.

“She does appreciate the big straight so she’s a ride I’m looking forward to, but there’s a lot of intrigue in the race.”

Adding to that intrigue are a number of horses returning from spells.

Lloyd Williams-owned Melbourne Cup winners Almandin and Rekindling resume for trainer Liam Howley while imports Muntahaa and Sound are having their first starts since last year’s Melbourne Cup.

The Taj Mahal and Yogi have each had one run back and are stepping up to 2000m.

“It’s a little bit like the Melbourne Cup,” Williams said.

“We haven’t seen some horses through their preparations and are first time out, so it’s a very interesting race, a very competitive race.”

Godolphin’s Avilius has a stranglehold on betting as the $1.95 favourite, the only runner under single figures.

Night’s Watch is the $11 second elect ahead of Rekindling and Ace High at $14.

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