"Wales win, 100 per cent,” shouts Evan Williams to his stable staff as he monitors his horses at Aberogwrn Farm.
On the morning of Wales’s Six Nations clash with Italy, Williams’s patriotism shines through. For many of his fellow Welshmen, Saturday’s Grand Slam clash with France is the key sporting event this week but Williams has more important issues to deal with.
This week’s Cheltenham Festival is the jewel in horse racing’s crown and for anyone with a passion for the equine world, the four days of action at Prestbury Park are the highlight of their sporting year. The Grand National may be the people’s race, but the festival is the main event, providing the 220,000 spectators with the highest quality of races played out on the breath-taking countryside of the Gloucestershire hills.
And Welsh trainer Williams goes into this year’s festival with his yard in fine form.
After being brought up on the farm where he now trains, Williams is now one of Wales’s leading handlers along with the likes of Tim Vaughan and Rebecca Curtis. Williams has trained over 500 winners from Aberogwrn Farm since taking out his training licence in 2003. These include High Chimes, his first Cheltenham Festival winner and State of Play, placed in the last two Grand Nationals and also a winner of a Hennessy Gold Cup. And his horses are in similarly good form this season.
“Quite good really,” said Williams when asked how things are going this term. “We’ve had 70 winners, we always try and stay in the top 10 if we can. That’s always our ambition at the start of every year and we’re in the top 10 now so that’s the way we try and judge it.”
Though stable stars State of Play, Deep Purple and Cappa Bleu will all have entries in next month’s Grand National, Williams and his 70 strong team have a number of chances this week.
“The horses have been in very good form throughout January and February so we’re very lucky that anything we do go there with will go with something of an each way chance,” he said in the kitchen of his countryside home near the village of Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan.
“Gurtacrue who is entered into the Kim Muir will go very, very well, he’s very well handicapped.
“Clarion Call if he gets into the Fred Winter will go very well, he’s well handicapped and Lancetto, I’ll run him in the Grand Annual, the last race of the meeting.
He may not have a Kauto Star or a Long Run in his yard but Williams relishes the chance to get one over on his more established rivals.
“It’s like Premier League football really, you’ve got your few clubs at the top that are powerful and then you’ve got the others that are trying to kick lumps out of them every Saturday and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.
“Part of the fun of it is taking on the big boys and that’s the challenge. It’s enjoyable to get up in the morning and have a go at them.”
The enjoyment of training horses is clearly evident as Williams patrols his yard, whistling to Dotty his terrier dog as he wanders up to watch his charges on the gallops.
And while his enthusiasm for the sport is clearly evident, Williams’s experience has taught him how hard it can be to have a winner at the Festival.
“You get realistic about Cheltenham I think that’s probably the case because we’ve been through the mill a little bit,” he said.
“You can paint the whole job up as some romantic little journey but you get very hardened to the fact that if you’re not good enough there’s no point going to Cheltenham without a realistic chance.
“It’s professional sport at the end of the day.”
The roar of the Cheltenham crowd provides one of the best atmospheres in sport but for the Welsh trainer it’s merely a part of his day-to-day routine.
“I’ve no soft spot really for Cheltenham, it’s more business,” he added.
“Cheltenham’s a wonderful place to go racing but I do sometimes think we focus too much on the Cheltenham’s of this world.”
But despite this statement a Festival winner would provide Williams with the utmost satisfaction as his career continues to soar.
As he points out before heading off to oversee the latest preparations: “There’s no doubt a Cheltenham winner can make your season.”