Luke Williams celebrates Jericho Cup glory aboard Count Zero in 2020

Stumpy chases a second straight success in the Jericho Cup

By Ben Caluzzi

“This would be the biggest win of his career!”

The dulcet tones of race caller Ric McIntosh as Luke ‘Stumpy’ Williams strode three lengths clear on Count Zero to claim the 2020 Jericho Cup. And Ric was right, it absolutely was.

Luke Williams has been riding for 30 years and for half of those years he has called Warrnambool home, so to win the $300,000 feature on local turf in November last year meant the world to him.

“It was a really good feeling. To work all those years and to finally get a race like that was good. It meant a real lot,” Williams said.

Williams’ riding story begun as a teenager three decades ago, and like many young aspiring jockeys, his riding career started when his secondary education ended.

“I got into racing because I wasn’t very good at school, and I loved horses.

“So, I decided that riding racehorses was a good career move. To get out of school early and to get a nice little job in the racing stables – it was a perfect fit for me.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Williams though, far from it. Throughout his years riding he has battled with drug addiction, and even spent time in jail.

“I battled with addiction for quite some time and it’s quite well documented that I went to jail.

“Through bad decision making basically. I’ve always been the same person that I am now, it wasn’t like I was anyone different.

“But the drugs got a little bit on top of me. I thought I had it all under control, but it wasn’t the case.

“It’s been a slow road to recovery, but we’re certainly on our way.”

To return to race riding after facing such adversity is tough, but to come out the other side and taste success at a high level is an inspiring story that certainly needs to be heard more.

This Friday at The Valley, Williams will ride the Deanne Taylor trained Silence the Stars in the Ladbroke It! Jericho Cup Qualifier over 3800 metres. The race offers the winner ballot exemption into the Jericho Cup at Warrnambool on November 28, and Stumpy will be hoping the nine-year-old gelding can help him defend his title in the race.

“I think he’s a big chance. His run the other day was a really nice run. He used to have an electric turn of foot, but he’s sort of mellowed out a bit now and he’s just a bit one-paced.

“He likes The Valley. He’s had a couple of runs there and he goes pretty good there, so we’ll just put him to sleep and at the 1000-metre mark we’ll start to wake him up and hopefully we can get some good points and end up in the Jericho.”

Williams hasn’t booked a ride in the Jericho Cup just yet, but victory on Friday night aboard Silence the Stars will go a long way to being his likely candidate on November 28.

There are dreams far greater than just another Jericho Cup for Williams though. He has taken up his training license and has a small team in work, but his lifelong ambitions remain in the saddle, where they have always been.

“This may sound stupid, but I have a burning passion to try and win the Melbourne Cup and it’s not beyond me.

“It’s certainly not a dream that has ended yet. I’m still fit enough. I’m not light enough at the moment of course, I need to work on my weight a bit, which will happen, but if it doesn’t then I’ll go the other way and just keep training.

“If I didn’t have a mirror, I wouldn’t know I was 47. The body is still good, and the mind is still good.”

Now recovered from his addiction and thankful for his new outlook on life, 47-year-old Williams has never appeared so upbeat about what the future may hold. His story is an underutilized one that goes far beyond racing, and his three-word motto is one that not only sums up his character, but one that tells his tale better than anything else:

“Never give up.”

It’s advice he hopes Silence the Stars adheres to on Friday night.