Kim Bailey reflects on sport’s mental health benefits and a Welsh winner
Google “Welsh wizard” and you come up with famous names such as Gareth Bale, Jonathan Davies, Ryan Giggs and David Lloyd George. But a new name needs adding to that list – trainer Evan Williams.
I have always been a fan of Evan and, in the early years, he insisted on calling me Sir. We have moved on, but after his masterful piece of training to win Saturday’s rearranged Welsh Grand National, it is my turn to call him Sir.
Evan is a quiet man who gets the job done, but Saturday’s winner Secret Reprieve has been on my radar since he finished second to our Newtide at Ffos Las 14 months ago. Evan said after that race that he was going to win the Welsh Grand National with his likeable horse, and although I was not sure which year he was referring to, I followed the horse’s progress with great interest.
Training and making plans is easy after a race, but to bring them to fruition takes meticulous planning – and a bit of luck. The planning was clear from the steady progress Secret Reprieve has made since that day at Ffos Las, and luck came in the shape of the race being delayed due to flooding in late December and running two weeks later, giving Evan’s young horse more time to recover from winning the Trial race at Chepstow in early December.
But extra luck was needed when the girth and breast strap broke two fences from home and jockey Adam Wedge did well to stay on. Adam must have been praying for the winning line to arrive – which on the
face of it was becoming further from the horse’s head than it should have!
It was a fitting result for a very proud Welshman, who struggled to hold back the tears, and Secret Reprieve’s owners, William and Angela Rucker, who are loyal supporters of Evan’s stable.
The highs and lows
The highs and lows of this wonderful sport of jump racing are well documented. At Kempton, one of our main Cheltenham hopes Imperial Aura parted company with his jockey David Bass at the second fence, leaving me feeling pretty frustrated.
David was adamant that something took Imperial Aura’s eye off the fence which is something that Harry Cobden might have said when he too so nearly parted company with the winner of the Grade Two chase, Master Tommytucker, when jumping the last well clear.
The racecourse was so quiet – it must be so difficult for owners who are currently not allowed to travel to watch their horses run. We need their support because without them none of us would be here doing what we love.
We need crowds back as soon as it is possible to bring them in safely to make the atmosphere. Mercifully racing excels on TV.
An uncertain future
By the grace of God racing, unlike point-to-pointing, continues but under very strange circumstances. We as a sport hopefully show a clean pair of heels in the way we conduct ourselves. We are clinically vetted for the day’s racing and all our staff work overtime to make sure they don’t burst our bubble.
Racing is an elite sport and however much we like to think we can carry on, our future is in the hands of others. All I do know is that when in lockdown we need sport to keep us from becoming frustrated. Football holds a nation and after a day of home schooling I know that watching a game of football keeps our son Archie sane.
I just hope that racing is able to carry on so all who watch and are part of it can keep sane too. Difficult times and very difficult days ahead. Stay safe and well.
Ref: 14 January 2021
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