Racing: The Williams age beckons

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The Independent Online
THE AGE of Venetia Williams is almost as big a mystery in racing as the disappearance of Shergar.

The Hereford trainer refuses to divulge the statistic in racing's Directory of the Turf; she thanks enquirers to mind their manners when asked the old question. The age detectives, however, have been on the job and 35 looks a worthy favourite.

That means we have a lot of this particular trainer to come. A Ms V Williams with braces in her teeth, like a similar figure in tennis, looks likely to dominate her arena in the years ahead. On Saturday, Venetia became only the second woman, after Jenny Pitman, to collect a Hennessy Gold Cup and the conjecture that she might straddle the game as effectively as Mrs P is now hardly a fanciful notion.

Venetia Williams has been trained well. She rode 10 winners as an amateur and even competed in a Grand National, the marathon of 1988 when she and Marcolo parted at Becher's Brook and the two-legged member of the partnership was knocked unconscious. Two weeks later, Williams broke her neck in a hurdle race and, after analysis, decided someone was trying to tell her something. The riding boots went in the attic.

In a new life, on the safe side of the rails, Williams was astute about her tutors. For seven years she learned at the knee of John Edwards. There were also masterclasses with Martin Pipe, Colin Hayes in Australia, and Barry Hills. Venetia Williams may now have only had a licence for three seasons but, it seems, the pupil may soon be allowed into the staff room.

The Williams strike-rate has been incomparable for the last two seasons. Now the big races are being magnetised to her stable at Aramstone, Kings Caple. Norman Williamson, who rode Williams' Hennessy winner, Teeton Mill, on Saturday has known the trainer since well before she wasn't one and is qualified to judge. "I've known her since I put my first step in England," the Irishman says. "She used to bollock me when she was with John Edwards.

"She knows her horses' capabilities. She rides most of them work before they've run and this trainer can walk into the parade ring and tell you exactly what they've done at home. She's with them morning, noon and night. All a jockey has to do is school them and steer them round a racecourse.

"Venetia puts her heart into the job and she deserves this big winner."

Williamson managed to save a stem to toss at Teeton Mill's feet. "All the way I was very happy with him," the jockey said. "He was on and off the bridle, but every time I moved he jumped into my hands straight away. Oh my God, I thought, I've got a lot of horse here."

Teeton Mill was with the main body of the field, fifth or sixth on the inside, for the first circuit. Stealthily, the old grey fox crept closer and he would have been hard to detect had it not been for his colouring.

Then it became a two-horse race. Eudipe took it up down the back on the last lap and burned off all but one horse. Teeton Mill was not flammable. By the entrance to the straight Williamson knew he had it won and was looking disdainfully over a shoulder. Rather naughtily, "Stormin" was waving his whip in a parabola of celebration from 100 yards out.

There were questions answered and questions posed. Teeton Mill is as short as 10-1 for the Grand National and 14-1 for the Gold Cup, and no- one is certain how far he can go. He has participated in only eight starts under Rules yet he will be 10 in a month's time. This is truly a late flowering.

"You always hope he's going to be better than this but, at the moment, he's still a handicapper," Williamson said. "If you put 12st on his back and 12st on Suny Bay's back I know who would be favourite. Teeton Mill would probably be a 50-1 shot.

"But he can only keep improving. He's been a hunter-chaser most of his life and now he's got a different training regime and more professional riding, so you never know."

Venetia Mary Williams has more time on her side even if she will not tell us exactly how much has already gone. The shy perfectionist described Teeton Mill thus: "He's very much his own man. In the stable he'll pull a face at you and he'll give you a nip if you do the wrong thing at the wrong time. But he does his work exactly as you want. He's an absolute professional." She's no amateur herself.