Updated: Dec 16, 2021
The story of Warwickshire horses flying the National Hunt flag has been dominated by the Skelton and Murphy stables this year. But it hasn't always been so, and like as not, the pendulum of fortune will swing again one day.
One stable enduring a largely unexciting winter over the sticks at any rate has been Ian Williams. His 18 winners from a modest 131 runs speak of a very respectable 13% strike rate, yet until a double today at Doncaster, winners have been slow to come to hand. Trainers are sometimes in fashion, sometimes not, yet Dominion Stables has a pedigree and record which any prospective owner would be pleased to get behind.
Ian is from a racing family. His father Billy was a West Country trainer, and a spell of college learning accountancy soon cured Ian of any appetite for a life away from racehorses. But that training has stood him in good stead, creating a dual purpose training business that is sustainable and not in hoc to this or that bank for too much to mention.
A spell with Jenny Pitman knocked off any Devon rough edges before Ian moved to Martin Pipe in the early nineties, then abroad to Francois Doumen in Chantilly. Francois at this juncture had just discovered the appeal of Christmas in London at the expense of the Kempton Park executive, and the British connection fuelled success in the King George and subsequently the Gold Cup for The Fellow, under the late Adam Kondrat, in 1994. If you recall, this was the race after which McCririck was forced to eat humble pie after remarking he'd eat his hat if Kondrat ever won the Gold Cup on the horse.
It was a golden period for the Chantilly yard, enabling Ian to travel overseas plenty and experience racing all over the world. But the chance to run his own set up was overpowering, and in 1997 he began that process in Oxfordshire before moving to Warwickshire, 4 miles north of Alcester.
The Dominion set up is impressive, even if not in idyllic Lambourn downland. Extensive gallops, palatial lodgings for both horses and staff , and the M40 within around 5 minutes give access to the UK's racecourses with great ease, but perhaps more importantly, to Britain's second largest city, a wealth of untapped racing enthusiasm. If Birmingham racecourse still existed, Ian would be its leading trainer without a doubt.
The stable's record is impressive. The last 5 years have seen nearly 350 winners under both codes return prize money in excess of £4.5m to their owners. So by these standards, 18 winners and a mere £108,000 this season to date falls short of expectations.
However, there are signs in the past few days that springlike weather is bringing the Williams horss back to form. One More Fleurie, recording his second win in 7 days in novices handicap chases, appears still to be ahead of the handicapper, whilst 10 year old Psychedelic Rock, dropped 10lbs since his last win 27 months ago, looks to have found winning ways again in veterans races. Don't be surprised to see him on the midlands Point-to-Point scene in the not too distant future.
For a man who has won on every UK racecourse, and who boasts some impressive winners on his CV, including 2 Chester Cups, a Prix de la Haye Jousselin at Auteuil, and a whole host of Graded races including at Aintree and a Festival winner of the Novices Handicap Chase, you won't find him shoutimng about his triumphs. He's no church mouse, but here's a man who lets his horses do the talking.
Don't rule out a flurry of Spring success to prove Warwickshire's got plenty of other able horsemen within the county.