Williamson smarts ends star’s unbeaten run
By Garrick Knight
A heady Nathan Williamson drive spelled the end of U May Cullect’s unbeaten record at Winton on Sunday.
Williamson, driving the horse he trains, Franco Santino, ensured a frantic pace throughout which meant the 50-metre handicap of the race favourite was insurmountable.
Despite running a last half in a tick over 53 seconds, U May Cullect could still only manage third.
“The way it worked out, once we made a good beginning, it just sort of made sense to keep them running,” Williamson told HRNZ.
“We had a 30-metre advantage over him and there was no point letting him cruise back in to the race because he was always going to be too good in that situation.
“I wasn’t actually expecting to be in front, but when the speed backed off early, I thought I would whip around and put it back on.”
Franco Santino, kept in work through winter, had a distinct advantage on the score of fitness, and that paid dividends.
And for Williamson, the second win in a row has been an overdue delivery of the ability he always knew the horse had.
“He’s been a bit of a problem horse in that he showed a bit of ability early - he actually went 1.52 as a three-year-old – but has always struggled to get really physically stronger.
“He couldn’t take a lot of work and we kind of had to baby him through it.
“As well as that, he was a picky doer and we had to space out his runs because of it.”
A trip to Addington for an unplaced effort in the Uncut Gems in June left Williamson scratching his head,
“That’s the only time he’s only disappointed me badly and to be honest I think it’s because he didn’t travel up that well.
“Being a colt, in new surrounds, he did not settle in and for two days was running around, not himself.”
Not gelding the son of Christian Cullen was a conscious decision on the part of owner Neville Cleaver, but one that Williamson agreed with.
“Neville loves colts and he spent a bit of money on him so didn’t want him gelded.
“And because he’s always been physically a bit behind the others his age, I thought leaving him a colt might help is development.
“That extra bit of testosterone would help him get stronger.
“And he’s good-mannered for a colt so it worked out well.”
Exactly why Franco Santino has come ahead the last couple of starts, firstly with a win at Gore and now Winton, isn’t something Williamson has put his finger on just yet.
“Just in the last month he seems to have turned the corner for unknown reasons.
“He feels a bit stronger and seems to be eating better so is copping a bit more work.
“Hopefully it means we won’t have to space his races anymore.”
Kirstin Barclay, revitalised after a holiday in Queensland, was over the moon with the fresh-up performance of her and Tank Ellis’ stable star, U May Cullect.
“I was absolutely rapt with him.
“He couldn’t have run home any quicker than what I timed him in.
“He just got too far back and the horses in front didn’t cart him up.”
But it was after the race that had Barclay particularly excited.
“He pulled up a treat and would hardly have blown out a candle, so I think we are right on track for the Hannon Memorial next week.”
Also heading that way will be Franco Santino, Williamson keen to get a line on where his in-form pacer sits against the big guns.
“We might look at the Hannon with him.
“Not because I think he’s a huge winning chance, but because it will give us a good line on where he’s at.“