Williams puts his focus firmly on the present

Wakanda, second left, wins the 2018 Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster with Henry Brooke on board.
Wakanda, second left, wins the 2018 Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster with Henry Brooke on board.
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Christian Williams’S burgeoning career as a trainer allows him limited time to relive past glories in the saddle, even on the 10th anniversary of a famous triumph.

When Doncaster stages the Sky Bet Chase, still better known to many traditionalists as the Great Yorkshire, Williams’s emphatic win in the 2009 edition aboard Big Fella Thanks will be among memories stirred.

For the man himself, though, it is the present and future that count most as he gives his wholehearted best to his new occupation.

The 11-length trouncing of a 13-runner field in testing conditions on Town Moor a decade ago therefore understandably appeared to be the last thing in Williams’s thoughts when he was reminded of the occasion.

To the fore instead was how best to place horses like Sideways, Potters Corner, Uno Mas and Cottonvale over the coming weeks.

Those are some of the non-household names who have helped Williams begin 2019 so well, boosting his winning strike rate to more than 10 per cent since he began training two years ago.

That was near Cardiff for heavyweight owner Dai Walters, but 12 months later Williams instead truly went back to his roots to train on the family farm in the idyllic setting of Ogmore-by-Sea.

He is able, under prompting, to recall his Great Yorkshire glory – and quickly summons a self-deprecating explanation for the wide margin of Big Fella Thanks’s victory.

“There was a loose horse chasing me up the run-in, and I wasn’t totally sure if it was loose,” he said. “You had to be fairly forceful on him, so I didn’t take any chances.

“I’d ridden him the time before in a good handicap at Kempton, when I got unseated, and I’m sure he would have won, so I was very confident, and it went well.”

Jonjo O’Neill’s 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Minello Rocco heads 14 remaining entries for the Sky Bet Chase on Saturday.

Minella Rocco has not been seen since falling in the Irish Gold Cup almost a year ago, and has subsequently undergone a wind operation.

Paul Nicholls has three left in; Warriors Tale, Art Mauresque and Favorito Buck’s. Nicky Henderson’s O O Seven, Alan King’s Dingo Dollar and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Go Conquer are others likely to have plenty of followers.

One stepping up in trip to three miles for the first time is Charlie Longsdon’s Willie Boy, a winner at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

“He’ll run this weekend – we want to see if he’ll get three miles,” said Longsdon. “In those top races over two and a half miles he can travel well enough, but he gets confused with his jumping. So going up in trip, it should slow him down half a gear.

“Good ground and three miles at Doncaster on a galloping left-handed track is the right place to try it with him.”

Longsdon is optimistic Willie Boy will have the necessary stamina.

“He was still going very nicely when he fell four out in the BetVictor Gold Cup and he hadn’t jumped well that day, because he was probably in top gear the whole time,” he said.

“He wore cheekpieces at Wetherby and they seemed to really sharpen up his jumping, so he’ll wear them again.”

Singlefarmpayment, Brian Boranha, Calipto, On Tour, Monbeg River and Fedirici are also all still in the mix at the five-day stage.

Sue Smith’s Midnight Shadow could have some stiff opposition to contend with if he is to continue his winning run in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham. The High Eldwick handler has wrought considerable improvement out of her six-year-old this term, as he graduated from an Aintree handicap win to land Grade 2 honours in the Relkeel Hurdle at Prestbury Park last time.

He steps up to three miles for the first time on his return to Cheltenham, where previous winners Agrapart and Unowhatimeanharry also feature among 14 entries.