Christian Williams reflects on 10-year anniversary of Big success

Jockey-turned-trainer landed Doncaster feature on Big Fella Thanks in 2009

  • Monday 21 January
  • News
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Christian Williams’ burgeoning career as a trainer allows him limited time to relive past glories in the saddle – even on the 10th anniversary of a famous triumph.

When Doncaster stages the Sky Bet Chase, still better known to many traditionalists as the Great Yorkshire, Williams’ emphatic win in the 2009 edition aboard Big Fella Thanks will be among memories stirred.

For the man himself, though, it is the present and future that count most as he gives his wholehearted best to his new occupation.

The 11-length trouncing of a 13-runner field in testing conditions on Town Moor a decade ago therefore understandably appeared to be the last thing in Williams’ thoughts when he was reminded of the occasion.

To the fore instead was how best to place horses like Sideways, Potters Corner, Uno Mas and Cottonvale over the coming weeks.

Those are some of the non-household names who have helped Williams begin 2019 so well, boosting his winning strike rate to more than 10 per cent since he began training two years ago.

That was near Cardiff for heavyweight owner Dai Walters – but 12 months later, Williams instead truly went back to his roots to train on the family farm in the idyllic setting of Ogmore-by-Sea.

He is able, under prompting, to recall his Great Yorkshire glory – and quickly summons a self-deprecating explanation for the wide margin of Big Fella Thanks’ victory.

“There was a loose horse chasing me up the run-in, and I wasn’t totally sure if it was loose,” he said.

“You had to be fairly forceful on him, so I didn’t take any chances.

“I’d ridden him the time before in a good handicap at Kempton, when I got unseated, and I’m sure he would have won – so I was very confident, and it went well.”

So too did many other rides in a career which brought Williams close to 350 winners, including more than 100 for multiple champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

At Ditcheat, he had early associations with several equine superstars – including the brilliant Denman.

There was a Grand National second on Royal Auclair, and wins on John Hales’ pair of Noland and subsequent Aintree hero Neptune Collonges.

But Denman was an evident highlight – as well as a neat reminder of what might have been for a man who does not seem to do regrets.

“He was a great horse,” Williams said of the 2008 Gold Cup victor.

“He was very green the first day (in a Wincanton novice hurdle), and just scraped home.

“But he was a freak, from pointing, and was always jumping fences from the start.

“I was jocked up on him in the Challow (Hurdle at Newbury), but it got cancelled in the morning for frost. It was re-scheduled for Cheltenham – and he won by 20 lengths, with Ruby Walsh!”

Williams was competing not just with Walsh but other talented jockeys available to Nicholls, and suffered more than many with jumping’s occupational hazard of bad injuries.

He has lost none of the pre-requisite optimism since the increasing weight of a healthy frame – rather than injuries – persuaded him to retire.

“It’s worked out great, the family farm, over the river at the bottom of the drive, the sand dunes – fantastic,” he said.

“I didn’t want to suddenly start training 50 horses overnight.

“I want to be learning from my mistakes along the way, and build it up that way.”

It means plenty of graft, of course, but is rewarding – as with a New Year’s Day double at Fakenham, the small matter of 265 miles from Williams’ Vale of Glamorgan base.

That is all in a day’s work – with an occasional overnight stop or two along the way.

He explained: “You have to be quite hands-on when you’re starting up. We just have one lorry, so I’ve had to do Hexham in a day, and that one didn’t go so well.

“But Fakenham on New Year’s Day was great.

“It’s seven and a half hours, so a fair old trek. But I did an overnighter, went up on New Year’s Eve on my own, then had the two winners.

“I’m thinking I might keep doing that, it seems to work.”

He has his eyes next on a staying chase at Hereford on Wednesday, then Huntingdon’s Cambridgeshire National as he tries to deliver both for the Christian Williams Racing Club and owners such as the Exeter Chiefs rugby contingent who last week had to settle for a runner-up spot with Cottonvale at Ffos Las.

The successes are hard-earned, but Williams does not begrudge others either.

For that reason, one horse he will be watching with interest and goodwill next month is Walters’ Al Dancer.

The Betfair Hurdle favourite began his career by running in two autumn bumpers for Williams in 2017, and has flourished this season as one of several moved on to Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Asked about the six-year-old grey, Williams said: “He was always outstanding – I think he is very special.

“Dai Walters bought about 10 from that sire (Al Namix), and he was always the one from the start.

“I hope it carries on because Dai is a really good man who puts a lot of money into racing.

“The sport needs people like him.”

Christian Williams reflects on 10-year anniversary of Big success
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