The battle for the Melbourne jockeys’ premiership brought out the best in the two leading riders at Moonee Valley.
Apprentice Beau Mertens entered Saturday’s meeting holding a two-win lead over five-time premiership winner Craig Williams.
And it was tit-for-tat early in the program.
Williams rode Wanted Diva to victory in the opening race with Mertens fighting back aboard Whistle Baby in race two.
Again Williams was to the fore on Ability in the third only to have Mertens stretch the lead again on Greviste in race four.
Riding $21 chance Magic Consol in race five, Williams again whittled the lead back before Daniel Stackhouse broke the sequence when Violent Snow won the William Hill Handicap.
Mertens had missed the previous two Saturday meetings through suspension and is trying to remain level headed as he chases a first jockeys’ premiership.
His goal at the start of the season was the apprentices’ title.
“It’s a bit of a fight for the jockeys’ title but there’s still two months to go,” Mertens said.
“I’m not going to let it get to my head too much. I’m just going to do what I’m doing and that’s riding winners.
“If I can do that, everything will fall into place.”
Williams said he would love nothing more than land back-to-back premierships after defeating Dwayne Dunn in a hard-fought battle last year.
But Williams won’t put a premiership ahead of Group One victories and the chance to ride internationally.
He was taking a late night flight to Hong Kong for a book of rides on Sunday ahead of riding at Sandown on Wednesday.
Next Saturday he heads to Doomben for the Group One Stradbroke Handicap to ride Derryn.
“Centre stage is definitely the championship but Group Ones are the pinnacle,” Williams said.
“If we’ve got good options in Group Ones we’ll go for them and the same internationally, but if we’re at home we’ll be chasing the championship.
“It’s great that I’ve got a really good challenge with Beau Mertens in regards to the title but in regards to the riding ranks the apprentices are all good.”