Racing: Venetia's command performance
Sunday 27 December 1998
In the middle of a modest nothing-to-do-with-me summation of the processional six and a half minutes to which Teeton Mill had just reduced the self- styled mid-season chasing championship, her mobile phone rang. "Hello, hello, thank you very much," she whispered down the receiver. "No idea who that was," she said, putting the phone back into a neat black shoulder bag. "But if you say `thank you very much' you can't go far wrong, can you?" In a brief training career, she has hardly put a gold-buckled size six out of place.
The command performance by Teeton Mill in winning the Pertemps King George VI was only the half of it. That morning, Williams had been named Channel 4 Personality of the Year. Nothing too remarkable about that, except that she won in a canter, polling 43 per cent of the votes. Tony McCoy, champion jockey, was second with 16 per cent. Not even Teeton Mill won that comfortably.
To most outside the daily routine of the turf, the name of Venetia Williams has only just penetrated the sporting consciousness. But racing has a good nose for talent and Williams has risen effortlessly into the top echelons of a fiercely competitive community. If the temptation is to bracket her with the season's outstanding chaser - and a grey to boot - Williams will be a fixture in the winners' enclosure long after Teeton Mill is enjoying retirement. Racing has instinctively understood that.
It takes a good horse to advertise a good trainer, for sure. But Williams has served some varied and tough masters during her apprenticeship, men as united in talent but different in character as John Edwards and Martin Pipe in fields as separated as Australia and the United States. An overnight sensation, 10 years in the making. Stephen Winstanley, the racing brains behind Winning Line, the betting syndicate who bought Teeton Mill a week before the Hennessy Gold Cup, once called her a cross between Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher. The Di side was on show yesterday; the Thatcherite tendency had surfaced earlier in the week when the venue for the stable's Christmas party was switched. Market forces deemed pounds 16 a head too expensive. A lady whose own riding career ended with a broken neck is not to be taken lightly.
"She is quietly very, very ambitious," says John Trickett, a member of the winning syndicate. "She has her own methods, she does things her own way. She will train them over five or six furlongs to sharpen them up, but will also pop them out in the field when she feels the horses need that. It's a matter of balance. There is no mollycoddling."
Teeton Mill barely broke sweat as he spreadeagled a high-class field. Not even Mill House or Arkle, whose illustrious company he joined as winner of the Hennessy and King George, had won that easily. Once a flying leap down the back straight had pushed Teeton Mill into the lead, the only danger to Norman Williamson was a bout of loneliness or a twisted neck. The Irishman sneaked a look four from home and another two out, but his rivals were barely visible in the mist and rain which once again spoiled jump racing's Christmas party. Long before the winning post, Williamson was standing up in the saddle and brandishing his whip in celebration in a display of flamboyance which might just earn him a gentle rebuke from such an understated trainer.
Such was the grey's dominance, a strange hush settled over Kempton in the wake of victory. Handicappers are not supposed to humiliate champions like that, let alone seasoned point-to-pointers. For just a moment in the preliminaries, Teeton Mill joined the defending champion, See More Business, in the paddock. Just the two of them, circling each other like heavyweight champions. It was the last the two saw of each other. See More Business was always struggling and the title had slipped from his grasp by halfway.
Perhaps we should have known. As they paraded past the stands, the field was sandwiched by greys; at the front, Desert Orchid, at the back, Teeton Mill. In between, a tradition gloriously upheld by One Man, another grey. Whether Teeton Mill can climb into such exalted company, Venetia Williams refuses to guess. "You're asking me to talk expertly about a field I've never been in," she said. No one in racing will be fooled. This lady's not for turning.
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