Racing: General leads out Williams recruits

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The Independent Online
THE NORMAL interest in the performance of a decent horse having its first run for a new trainer will be redoubled in spades this weekend if the weather allows the hurdler Bellator and the chaser General Wolfe to appear. Both are among the long-term entries for high-profile races, the Champion Hurdle and Grand National respectively. And both are now under the care of Venetia Williams, who is not exactly noted for causing the form of new recruits to deteriorate.

General Wolfe is due to run in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock, which he won last year before bowing out for the rest of the season with an injured tendon. Formerly with now-retired Tim Forster, the 10-year-old is owned by Winning Line Racing, whose colours have been carried so nobly recently by his celebrated stablemate Teeton Mill. Williams said of the chestnut: "He's had a year off to let time do its thing and the leg seems fine. But we'll know more after he runs."

Immediate plans for Bellator, redirected from Toby Balding's yard by his owner, Peter Richardson, last month, are less definite as the six- year-old is in at Kelso on Friday and the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton and the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock on Saturday. "We really haven't decided yet," Williams said, "we'll see what's likely to be on and what else is likely to be running where. Perhaps Haydock, it's a pounds 25,000 race and French Holly will probably be in Ireland."

Bellator, disappointing when a distant fifth behind Dato Star and French Holly in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November, was a smart performer last season, winning a valuable handicap at Aintree after unseating at the last in the Champion Hurdle. This year he is also among the entries for the Stayers' Hurdle, as is another dodgy-legged newcomer to the stable, Putty Road, winner of the 1995 Sun Alliance Hurdle for David Nicholson, but unraced for almost two years.

A third Aramstone inmate, Lady Rebecca, attracted more support at the head of the Stayers' Hurdle market yesterday. The mare, already three times a winner at Cheltenham, is scheduled to return to her happiest hunting ground for the Cleeve Hurdle in 10 days' time.

Happy Change, one of Williams's trio of Champion Hurdle entries (the other is the ex-French Flat stayer Stretarez, who won the Group Three Ormonde Stakes at Chester in May shortly after his arrival at his new home) was the subject yesterday of a gamble for the race with William Hill. The firm reported "an avalanche of cash" which swept the ex-German five-year-old's price from 50-1 to 25-1. Ladbrokes cut him to the same price from 40-1.

The possible perspicacity of his supporters may be misplaced, however. Happy Change, who chased Borgia home in the German Derby two years ago and won a 10-furlong Group Three event at Baden-Baden last year, has yet to jump a hurdle in public. "He seems a nice horse and will be running within the next month," his trainer said, "but he'll also be entered in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle."

Williams, 38, is in only her fourth season with a training licence, but although she in not in any shape or form a self-publicist - absolutely the reverse - she has not managed to keep her talent hidden and as a result a steady stream of transfers has arrived at her door.

"I can assure anyone that I have not gone out and touted for these horses," she said, "but if the phone rings I have to pick it up."

Her 60-box yard near Kings Caple, in rural Herefordshire, is stuffed to bursting point, but she has no plans for expansion, presumably on the grounds that larger numbers would compromise her ability to get to know each individual, and its scope and limitations, inside out. Her testament is a strike-rate running at over 30 per cent.

Those owners looking for sight of a box of stardust may be disappointed. "When new horses come to us we just feed them and exercise them," Williams said. Yes, and Picasso had paint in his pot and just put it on the canvas.