Evan Williams

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The Independent Online

Evan Morgan Williams, jockey: born Cowbridge, Glamorgan 9 May 1912; married (two sons); died 12 July 2001.

One of the most successful National Hunt jockeys of his era, Evan Williams had his most famous win as a 24-year-old in the 1937 Grand National at Aintree, when he guided Royal Mail to a three-length victory in the gruelling four-mile, 856-yard, 30-fence marathon.

"Give the credit to the horse," Williams told journalists at the time. "He jumped perfectly and cleverly. He made one or two mistakes, but they were not entirely his fault. When I took up the running in the country the second time, some loose horses interfered with Royal Mail and it was not long before we could shake them off. After that, everything went smoothly."

Williams was born in Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan in 1912, the son of a local point-to-point favourite, Fred Williams, who was the starter at Chepstow and Ely (Cardiff) racecourses. Educated at Taunton School, in Somerset, it was at the Cardiff course that the younger Williams first came to prominence.

On Easter Monday 1933, he rode the first winner of the day, Mr Gandhi, as an amateur. He also rode the last winner of the day, Vive L'Amour, but in the meantime he had joined the professional ranks.

Williams's Grand National success in 1937 completed a notable Welsh double in the event, with his compatriot Fulke Walwyn having won the previous year's Aintree classic on Reynoldstown.

Williams also had the honour of riding arguably the greatest of all steeplechasers and a winner of 29 races, Golden Miller. The young Welshman was asked at the last minute to ride the champion jumper in the 1937 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Despite the fact that Golden Miller was past his brilliant best, some fine horsemanship from Williams got him home by 12 lengths for his record fifth consecutive Cup win. No other horse has won more than three. Ironically, the runner-up that day was Royal Mail.

Williams, who is ranked in the top 50 National Hunt jockeys of all time, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup again in 1940, when he steered Roman Hackle to an easy 10-length victory.

During the Second World War Williams served with the 27th Lancers and returned to England to train on the flat at Kingsclere in Hampshire. His most notable winner was Supreme Court, who won the inaugural King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in 1951. At the time, it was the richest race in Britain. Supreme Court also won the Chester Vase. His other winners included Cagire II, who won the Almond Stakes, Falls of Clyde, who won the July Cup, and Harlech, who won the Goodwood Stakes.

Williams later moved to Ireland, where he hunted the Tipperary hounds for many years. He was a partner in Ballykisteen Stud and was a successful breeder and stallion owner. For many years, he was based at the Knockaney Stud in Co Limerick.

Austin Leahy, who trained for Williams, said: "Evan was a real old gentleman, although he could be abrupt if you didn't know him. I trained a few for him over the years and I think I gave him his last winner as an owner. He used to be a regular visitor to the yard and if he thought the lads riding out were riding too short, he certainly didn't hesitate to tell them."

Robert Cole