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The Evan Williams Interview

Racing
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27 September 2022

By Harry Corish

Evan Williams and his family enjoy the summer, but not as much as the winter and the jump season when, as he puts it, “the mud is flying, and the days are short, and the flowers have died.” 

That’s poetry. And there’s more. 

“That’s when we really come alive,” says the trainer. “And it will be good to get back amongst it.” 

Williams is one of Wales’ most successful National Hunt trainers and was always destined to join the field in top class racing, having been involved in point-to-point in Wales from a young age. 

His daughter Isabel has become a successful jump jockey and his other daughter Eleanor recently started on the path as an amateur rider. 

There will be few families as heavily involved in the jump season – which begins at Chepstow with the Big Welsh Racing Weekend on Friday, October 7 – as the Williamses.

Evan had his first ride back in 1989 and started training in 1997 and just continued to progress from there, getting his professional license in 2003/2004.

The Vale of Glamorgan-based trainer says: “I was always in the thick of it with my family. I loved it from when I was very young.

“It was just something we did. There was no real National Hunt scene back then, obviously. It was all very much centred on the point-to-point circuit.

“Back then, there were a few trainers who trained under rules. Dai Burchell had a licence and was very successful, Milton Bradley was very successful and locally Bryn Palling trained winners.

“But it wasn’t as it is right now; things have progressed an awful lot over the last couple of decades.”

It is still a family affair in the horse racing business for Williams, whose household have always been involved in racing. 

The trainer’s grandfather and parents all trained winners in point-to-points and under rules. Now, he has his own family, it is only natural for them to be fully immersed in the family business.

“Horse racing is a very similar industry to farming, in a lot of ways,” he says. “It is not something that you dip in and dip out of. It is a lifestyle, it is how you live your life.” 

The 51-year-old has been lucky to have his wife Catherine, his son William, and Isabel and Eleanor, to help alongside him at their yard in Llancarfan, near Cowbridge.

“We do what we do because it is our living, and it is our passion. The children and Catherine have always been fully involved in it.

 

“Whether it is a good day or a bad day, racing is what we do. We do what is best for that horse and try and get it to win a race.

“You live it together; you are all in it together, really. It is very nice when it comes off and you have a good day, you realise all the hard work that goes into it. But it is nice to have that support when it doesn’t go so well, too.

“We are very lucky that we can commiserate together and rejoice together.”

It was inevitable that his two daughters would end up in the field they had grown up in. But their parents confess they didn’t quite realise it would mean riding.

“It is very worrying when you see them ride,” admits Williams.

“I can’t pretend I find watching them ride very easy. But they enjoy what they are doing, and they have been doing incredibly well.

“It is not easy all the time, but it is great when you see them ride a winner because you know how much hard work goes into it. It’s magical.

“You never think they would end up riding. It was never the plan. We didn’t even think about it, really.

“The reality is there was work to be done and you all do the work and that is how it has always been.

“They have always been there to help and they have always been a massive help. As they get older and they get more experienced, they are even more of a help.

“When I think about it, we are so incredibly lucky to have a strong family unit, who are all pulling in the same direction.

“I don’t know if they enjoy it, or they have no choice in the matter! But, they seem happy enough, anyway!”

Welsh jump racing – both trainers and jockeys - has been enjoying great recent success and Williams was always sure the talent and quality here would show on the big stages.

“I’ve always had a lot of faith in everybody associated with horse racing in Wales. It used to be very, very hard to win the worst point-to-point racing on top of a mountain in Wales. It used to be very competitive to do that.

“I am very lucky that from early on I was very aware of the quality you are taking on in the amateur sport.

“When they got the chance to go professional - I’m talking about the Bowen boys, Ben Jones, Jack Tudor and Connor Brace - they have gone from strength to strength. 

“There’s a whole host of these young lads coming through now as riders and we have very strong bunch of trainers as well.

“They were always there; they were immersed in the point-to-point scene and now it is fantastic they have been given the chance to show themselves on the big stage.

“It just goes to show what a brilliant breeding ground Wales is for jockeys. They have always been there in Wales and they have just pushed the boundaries further and further as they have gone far more professional.”

Such passion and enthusiasm for the sport – and for training winners – was evident at the Cheltenham Festival this year, when TV viewers saw an animated Williams after Coole Cody won the Craft Irish Whisky Co. Plate Handicap Chase.

The popular handicap chaser was ridden by stable jockey Adam Wedge and continued his success at the iconic venue.

Williams hadn’t had a winner there since 2006 but it is always a place where trainers are judged and he concedes: “Coole Cody has been quite a remarkable horse around Cheltenham. His record in all the major handicaps over two mile four, two mile five, is probably as good as any horse in the history of the sport.

“He’s won all those major two and a half handicaps in Cheltenham, so to go to the festival and to win - that meant an awful lot.

“It meant a lot to his owner, to the yard. They are very difficult races to win. It was great for us, it was a magnificent achievement.

“Any of those big races mean a lot. We have been lucky enough to win a lot of big races and every time you win a big race you realise how lucky you are to be involved as a yard and as a family.

“It‘s funny, really, because racing is every day. Professional sport is difficult and you just have to roll on and look towards the next race. There is not too much time to congratulate yourself.

“You are only as good as your last winner and people soon forget. 

“So, I don’t wallow in it for too long.”

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