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Back with a bang: Calyx extends unbeaten record with scorching comeback at Ascot

Calyx: maintained unbeaten record with impressive win at Ascot
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Christian Williams is a man in demand. It might be several months away from tourist season in the pretty coastal village of Ogmore-by-Sea in the Vale of Glamorgan but trying to find a place to park at the trainer's yard is a fraught business.

A Wednesday with no runners might be a "quiet day" in his mind but that has not stopped his vet, farrier, stable sponsor with camera crew and photographer in tow and yours truly turning up en masse. And just when it seems like it could not get any busier, his father Robert pulls up in his red tractor. 

Yet Williams is unflustered as he emerges from the main barn, still sporting the broad grin that has not left his face since stable star Potters Corner provided the home nation with a first win in more than half a century in the Welsh Grand National on December 27.

He might be being pulled in every direction this morning but these are momentous times for the former rider as he continues to grow a training business that did not exist two years ago. 

"I was just proud of the horse for the first day or two after Chepstow but then I started to realise what we'd achieved," he says, breaking away from the commotion to consider the biggest win of his training career to date and the reason his time has been at a premium ever since.

It was not by accident that Potters Corner, owned by Wales's star rugby union centre Jonathan Davies in partnership with a syndicate managed by former Scarlets player Gareth Maule, arrived at Chepstow in the form of his life and ready to become the first home-trained winner of the race since Norther prevailed under Terry Biddlecombe in 1965.

Ever since March's Midlands Grand National success, Williams has had eyes only for the Welsh National, restricting Potters Corner to racing over hurdles to give him the best-possible chance of success in Wales's most-prestigious chase.

"I don't think I had him in brilliant form in the Midlands National so knew there could still be a little bit of movement in his mark," he says, lifting the lid on a well-executed plan.

"Because it would be so special to win the Welsh National, we decided on that day. I wanted him to go there full of confidence, which means getting the horse's head in front before and I thought my best chance of doing that would be running him over hurdles.   

"He lost his backend on the bend on his first run this season at Aintree and Adam Wedge looked after him, then at Haydock he was rushed off his feet in a very good race. I was then able to get Jack Tudor to ride him before the big day and they were able to win his prep at Chepstow over hurdles and that meant he could go into the National having won, which was brilliant for him and put him in the best of form."

Williams, 37, is not a trainer who pores over the form book or spends hours watching racing. Instead he spends as much time as possible with his horses in their home environment and the one thing he knows better than anyone is  the wellbeing of his string, which is why he could see Potters Corner winning before the race had even started.

"I was convinced he was nearly going to win the race," he relives. "I took him to Henrietta Knight's on the 24th for a school and she said 'this horse is looking very well with you Christian'. He looked a picture and back at home on Christmas Day when I looked in on him I could see how well he was looking."

There is a dreaminess about the way he tells his story in a warm Welsh timbre but even he cannot stop the octaves climbing when thinking back to Chepstow.

"I don't know why, perhaps all the Welsh people had backed him, but the atmosphere was unbelievable," he says. "It was just brilliant and I was just so proud of the horse and so pleased for the lads who own him. They're a great bunch and just leave me to it." 

With his bushy black hair and youthful appearance, Williams is not your archetypal racehorse trainer. The idyllic location of his yard, a short meander up river from a quite magnificent stretch of heritage coast line, means his is not an archetypal training establishment either.

There are no purpose-built gallops to inspect or state of the art equine pool and solarium to be cooed over. Instead, he works with the rich and varied landscape Mother Nature has gifted on his doorstep and listens to what his horses tell him. The results are undeniable.

"I like to do things my way," he explains. "Horses used to be trained in a slow and steady manner but it's all completely different now because people can't get the staff anymore and need a gallop on their doorstep.

"Most of our work is done on deep sand and is steady work. I'm not saying we're on them for hours but it's probably 40 to 50 minutes. We're doing it the old way because that's what we've got here. It's quite natural and we don't set a routine, other than to keep things simple. 

"I trained a lot of winners at Dai Walters' on a three-furlong carpet gallop. It was completely different but you adapt and now we're training them on the dunes. It's completely different but how is Potters Corner improving at ten?

"It must be the deep sand - it strengthens them up and they just seem to thrive. That slow, relaxed work builds them up and they’re not as susceptible to injuries that way. As well as getting them fit, mentally we're probably getting them in the right frame of mind as well."

If happy horses make winning ones, the trainer is surely on the right path. Exit the yard and the horses are almost immediately welcomed by the shallow river which races past the ruins of neighbouring Ogmore Castle.

It is but a ten-minute ride from there to the beach, where if they are not working on the deep dunes, they can venture down to the water's edge to exercise. Life is not only varied here but surely fulfilling too for both the horses and staff. It is certainly a sight to behold as the string splash their way back up the river on the journey home. 

Born and bred in Ogmore where his parents run the riding centre which adjoins his yard, catering for casual riders who fancy a spin along the beach, Williams remembers riding before walking.

One of six siblings and the eldest of five brothers - who include a plumber, a kitchen fitter and a chef - it was all about rugby and horses growing up with his natural affinity with horses and hunger to achieve behind his decision to ride professionally.

Undoubtedly a talented horseman, he notched close to 350 winners on the racecourse and was a trusted part of the Paul Nicholls team during the halcyon years of Kauto Star, Big Buck's and Denman, who he rode in novice hurdles, yet his riding career was repeatedly interrupted by a catalogue of sickening injuries. 

In 2006 he smashed his right shoulder to bits and spent two weeks in intensive care before a year-long recovery. Eighteen months later he sustained multiple fractures of his left leg and then in November 2010 he was left reeling on the turf at Cheltenham following a horrendous fall that forced the bones of his left arm through his the skin courtesy of a double open fracture. 

The story of the repairs involves skin grafts, transplanted nerves, the hideous effects of compartment syndrome where the arm swelled up to ten times its normal size and the skin had to be slit to ease the pressure.

Amazingly, he returned to the saddle but the momentum from the half century of winners the previous season and his personal best of 77 winners in 2007 had been lost. His arm could be rebuilt but his riding career never really recovered. 

"As long as it's not your neck or back you can usually be repaired and I didn't retire because I was injured, I just wanted to be doing a little bit better than I was," he says with not even a hint of self-pity. 

"I was convinced at the beginning I could do really well and I was flying but the injuries slow you down. I only turned professional at 20 and retired at 29 but I loved every minute of it." 

While some find the unique buzz of race riding impossible to replace, Williams says he has never missed it and gets much more pleasure out of training.  

"I've got two children at home and a missus I've been with for 20 years, so when I retired I was content and never looked back," he says. "I march on and want to be as good as I can as a trainer now."

Asked to compare the two professions, he continues: "It's like Rugby League and Rugby Union, or Flat racing and jumps racing - it's totally different.

"As the trainer, you wash the horse off yourself, come in and ride them out on Christmas Day, drive them to the races and drive them home again.

"After Chepstow, I drove Potters Corner home, fed him and put him to bed - so it's completely different. When you ride them you turn up at the races, jump on, jump off and then you're back in the car." 

After walking away from riding on his own terms, he teamed up with fellow Welshman and prominent owner Dai Walters. What started as merely riding out at Walters' pre-training operation a short hop along the M4 towards Cardiff, led to the former rider becoming the licensed trainer at the yard.

He spent close to five years there, preparing a lot of quality youngsters for Walters before they moved on but also training horses of his own and with notable success.

When Limited Reserve put him in the Saturday spotlight at the end of 2017, his ambition grew and he soon decided it was time to move home and launch Christian Williams Racing.

Having started with just a handful of horses almost two years ago, he now supervises a team of 30 at his bustling yard and trained a healthy 27 winners last season, including serial victors Uno Mas (six wins) and Fifty Shades (five wins), as he put his name in lights. 

With his horses climbing the weights after a productive campaign, this season was always going to be a challenge and, even after Potters Corner's Chepstow heroics, the only ambition for the time being is to ensure the yard is viable.

"It's tough and we're tight," he says of balancing the books. "You probably wouldn't believe it but the margins would be tiny.

"Sometimes the training of the horses is immaterial to your business. There's no point in me being a racehorse trainer if I can't feed my kids. I knew I wasn't going to make money for the first year or two because I had to buy horses myself to show people what I could do. 

"Hopefully going forward I can run a successful business from 30 or 40 paying owners rather than have to own x amount myself which I needed to do last year. 

"I couldn't do it without my father's support and my brother Nicky is a big part of it too, but hopefully the business side of it will fall into place now. I said the first two years I'd do the transport myself to keep my head above. We've not been flying lately but you only need one like Potters Corner to steady the ship."

The future certainly looks positive for Williams, with high-profile owners like Andrew Brooks, Paul and Clare Rooney and the Potter family already backing the trainer and there has been some encouraging inquiries from prospective owners since the Welsh National win.

A proper grafter (he was back in the horsebox and off to Newbury at dawn the day after the Welsh National) and totally engrossed in his horses, it is only the three ladies in his life that sidetrack him from his work.

Talk of long-term partner Charlotte and daughters Tilly (four) and Betsy (two) puts the dreaminess back in his voice and also provides an insight into why failing is not an option.

"I didn't want to go into this to train just five winners a year," he explains. "I want my family to be proud of me and to go and win a Welsh and Midlands National having not come home too long ago is great.

"I leave the house in the morning before my girls are awake and, if I then go racing, they'll be asleep when I get home so I try to pick them up from school everyday I'm not racing. I can see how lucky I am."

He will no doubt enjoy telling Tilly and Betsy about December's dream result in years to come but the Potters Corner story is by no means over yet.

Indeed, the father of two has already hatched the next plan, with his sights set on the the biggest of big-race targets.

"I couldn't believe how well he won at Chepstow and think he could have a real chance in the Grand National at Aintree," says the trainer. "He's economical and it could really suit him. He travels on the bridle, which is not what staying chasers usually do. He's got a touch of class.

"Red Rum was trained on the beach like Potters Corner and these things do happen. I'm not sure how much more movement there is in his mark but he just keeps winning and hopefully he's not done yet."

Local legends after Chepstow, you certainly would not put it past Williams and Potters Corner becoming national treasures in the most famous race of all. 

Talented Tudor looks the real deal 

The Welsh National may have been the most significant day of his training career so far but Christian Williams had no hesitation in handing the ride on Potters Corner to 17-year-old Jack Tudor. 

"Everyone wanted to ride the horse and I thought I was making a statement that I really thought we could win the race by putting Jack on," says the trainer.

"The safe option would have been to put a professional on but I thought if I was brave and put Jack on, we could win the race. I knew he was capable and he was brilliant."

Like Williams, Tudor is a native of Ogmore-by-Sea and a full-time member of the trainer's team. He is stepping out on the same path his boss did at the start of the millennium with the dream to establish himself among the professional jockey ranks.

He's so relaxed we thought he'd get a mile but it was all speed. He proved today he has so much power and I think we'll stick to sprinting
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