Michael Cox



Why Craig Williams is willing to give up a Group 1 day for the World All-Star Jockeys series 

Craig Williams says two humanitarian trips to his wife’s stricken homeland of Ukraine have given him a new perspective on life and renewed purpose in the saddle.

The choice between a crucial Group 1 day that marks the start of a spring campaign for star horses and a chance to compete in the World All-Star Jockeys in Japan was not simply a horse racing decision for Craig Williams. 

The veteran jockey is riding in career-best form but will give up rides on Memsie Stakes day, the traditional spring starting point for star horses in Melbourne, and travel to Sapporo for the two day series on August 27 and 28. 

“Life is too short, and the opportunity to travel and see my friends in Japan after five years was just too good an opportunity to pass up,” Williams said. 

There would have been a time not too long ago that Williams – a racing obsessive who is renowned for his meticulous preparation – would have passed on a chance to travel at such a critical stage of the Australian season, even with his considerable experience in Japan, where he has won three Group 1s. But Williams and his wife Larysa’s two humanitarian visits to her homeland of Ukraine have given the jockey a new perspective on life, not to mention a renewed purpose in the saddle. 

“We have had profound, life-changing experiences being in Ukraine,” the 45-year-old said. “Our priorities are completely different now and over the last four months a lot of things have changed. We make sure we value certain things more importantly and we don’t spend time on things that I thought really mattered. I have come to realise that those things aren’t life and death. They are not as important as I used to think they were. 

We have had profound, life-changing experiences being in Ukraine.

“Little things like not getting the ride that I thought I should get, or worrying that I didn’t ride the best race. I have realised that your health, safety and family are the most important things in life. If you have all of that right, then everything else follows. When you set yourself to do something you remain committed, and you may not always get the result, but you always have to keep striving. I am not spending extra time worrying about things I cannot control.” 

The couple have helped raise more than $400,000 to buy and deliver aid to assist civilians during Russia’s ongoing invasion of the democratic nation. 

Since returning from his last six-day visit to deliver aid, WIlliams has suffered the loss of a key contact in Ukraine, but has channeled his focus into his riding and has been striking at a prolific rate. His stakes race double at Caulfield last weekend formed part of a first two weeks of the season where he has struck at 25 per cent, all while riding with a blue-and-yellow ribbon, representing Ukraine, on his silks. 


Williams wins the Vain Stakes aboard Giga Kick, sporting a blue and yellow ribbon in support of Ukraine. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

“When I came home I was galvanised by the people of Ukraine’s strength, and I have ridden with so much purpose with those colours,” he said. “So many people have supported us financially that every time I am jumping on a horse, nearly every one of those owners is supporting the cause financially. I have a duty to get the absolute best out of my ride, but I feel like I am empowered to do even more for them because of what they have been able to contribute.” 

Despite the loss and trauma, Williams has not let the invasion of Ukraine dull his ever-positive outlook on life, in fact he has gained a new appreciation of the human spirit and the freedom he enjoys in Australia. 

When I came home I was galvanised by the people of Ukraine’s strength, and I have ridden with so much purpose with those colours.

“We still see so much good in the world, and I think it is a great time to have children,” Williams said. “There are bad things in the world, but what we have seen in the last five months, and the spirit of people, shows me that there is more good than bad. What is great for us and our children is that they are growing up in this environment here in Australia.

“We were heartbroken when the invasion began, we could see a foreign country deciding that they wanted something because they were bigger and more powerful. When we saw the death, the destruction, the rape, the torture and the murder of innocent people and children we had to do something. The trauma kits we can provide save lives … we aren’t talking about band-aids. 

“Now I know we have a dangerous job – we have two ambulances following us around  – but when you start talking about to the ex-special forces that are security for us there it changes how you see things. They are talking to civilians about things like when you lose this part of your arm, this is what you do, or when this part of your leg is blown off, you need to do this. These are the types of words they are using. It has given me a greater respect for the servicemen and women for what they do and what they have done.”

Williams downplays his own personal role in the fund-raising efforts and has praised the racing industry for its support. 

Mr Brightside and Craig Williams hold off I Am Superman in the P.B. Lawrence Stakes. (Photo by Brett Holburt/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

“People are saying it is amazing what you have done, but for us it is just the right thing to do and we are able to do it. The people of Ukraine are united, they are going about their days the best they can, but they are in a fight for their survival. I ride horses for a living,and I go home at the end of the day. But if they don’t win their race – this war – they won’t have a choice of where they want to go, or do or say. 

“That is when I realised how lucky I am that I do what I do, I live in Australia and have an Australian passport. I am grateful to live in a democracy and to have freedom of choice, my own will and rights, and that should never be lost.” 




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