Evan Williams aiming for glory at last in Welsh National

Evan Williams is pinning his hopes on Secret Reprieve to lead the charge at Chepstow this weekend – and finally prove he can train the Welsh Grand National winner.

Williams has had to grin and bear it from an early age, and specifically since his hugely successful training career began to flourish, whenever his father Rhys pointed out the Christmas marathon was still missing from his CV.

It is only a short journey round Cardiff and up the M4 from his Llancarfan base to the undulations of Chepstow, and he has worn weary at times of the jokes at his expense as he has returned without the main prize each year.

Williams’ own assessment of his Welsh National record – “not exactly great” – is notably modest, given he has provided the runner-up, third and twice the fourth, including last year with the returning Prime Venture.

He left the course 12 months ago with understandably mixed feelings, in fact, after his fellow Glamorgan trainer Christian Williams sent out Potters Corner to be Wales’ first winner of the race since Norther in 1965.

There was a thrill with the “right result” – but more than ever it meant those reminders of how Williams senior had won point-to-points on Norther, who went on to be partnered by the flamboyant Terry Biddlecombe at Chepstow.

“My father used to rib me for all of my life about it,” he said.

This year, the talented six-year-old Secret Reprieve – 7-2 ante-post favourite with title sponsors Coral – and Prime Venture promise that elusive moment of glory.

Williams added: “I’d like to do it for Wales, fly the flag for Wales, but most importantly I’d like to do it for the horse and the owners – because both sets of owners are massive supporters, and I get an awful lot of enjoyment out of training winners for them.

“(Years ago) it was just this mythical event that I never thought I’d have a horse good enough to run in, or a trainer’s licence to be able to run in it.

“I suppose it’s because of all these old fellas over the years that have told me about the Welsh National that it means such a lot to have a horse with a chance of winning.”

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As for his father’s association with Norther, he said: “That’s all I’ve heard about all my life…he ribbed me for years and years.

“Although I was fourth last year, I was glad I wasn’t second – and I was just delighted another Welsh horse had managed to win it, so I wouldn’t have to hear about Norther all my life.”

He has often endured rather than enjoyed those tales of yore.

“It’s like everything you hear about in the old days,” he said, in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

“They were always better, the fences were always bigger and the races were always stronger.”

The celebrations were fierce too, he senses: “My father liked a drink, and Terry Biddlecombe liked a drink, and it’s fair to say there were plenty of places in Cardiff which you wouldn’t want to go to that got a hammering that weekend.”

State Of Play was an Aintree regular
State Of Play was an Aintree regular (David Davies/PA)

Secret Reprieve, bidding to follow up his 12-length romp in the big-race trial over seven furlongs shorter, carries the famous colours of the Rucker family – for whom Williams trained Cappa Bleu to finish third in 2013 as well as Aintree Grand National regular State Of Play, among many others.

He said: “They’re irreplaceable supporters of ours – owners with us from the very start.

“We have a very close relationship, very close bond – without them, make no mistake, this racing yard wouldn’t be what it is. They support you – if it goes right they support you, and if it goes wrong they support you.”

Victory in the Ruckers’ blue and pink will be special for the yard, and so too if Prime Venture were to upset the odds for his Welsh owner Janet Davies.

“I do beat myself up about it sometimes that we haven’t managed to nail one of those major Nationals,” said Williams.

“It would mean an awful lot to me to win any of them.

“I have an awful habit of being placed in all of these big races – it’s nice to win them now and again.”

He is confident his two contenders will have “exactly what they want” if, as usual, this year’s race is run on heavy ground – and win or lose, he sees a bright future for Secret Reprieve.

“I hope he can figure higher in the handicap ranks down the line, and he might just be a bit better than that,” he said.

“He could be anything – but he has to go and do it on Sunday, and it will be a big test.”

Potters Corner was a Welsh National winner for Wales
Potters Corner was a Welsh National winner for Wales (David Davies/PA)

Williams was able to join the Welsh chorus of approval at victory for Potters Corner last year.

“I was genuinely thrilled that it was Christian who was the first Welsh winner for so long,” he said.

“But if I’d been second I wouldn’t have been so thrilled … I’d have been a miserable devil.

“It was the right result last year for the rugby boys (owners) and Christian – they would have done a better job of celebrating than me. I’d have just come home and fed some cattle, and gone to bed!”

If his name is to stay off the silverware again, he has no hesitation in naming Colin Tizzard as the trainer he would love to see successful with Christmas In April.

This weekend’s renewal is named the Coral Welsh Grand National (run in memory of Kim Gingell) – in memory of Tizzard’s daughter, who died in May.

Williams said: “If I got beaten a short-head by the Tizzards, would I really begrudge them? I wouldn’t.

“It’s run in Kim’s honour – sometimes there’s bigger things than a few horses running round a wet, boggy field in Monmouthshire, isn’t there?”

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