Interview: Venetia Williams On her Herefordshire Life
11:54 14 January 2011
Trainer Venetia Williams whose Grand National victory left punters reeling talks to Rachel Crow about her Herefordshire life, her war against the county's potholes... and why she'd love to sneak into the jockeys' changing room.
Mon Mome, at 100-1, was the longest-priced winner of the Grand National for 42 years. His trainer Venetia Williams has been running her yard from her family's estate in the heart of rural Herefordshire since 1995.
The granddaughter of well-known owner and breeder, Percival Williams, Venetia grew up surrounded by horses and was drawn to racing having watched her grandparents' horses compete on the Flat. Her late mother, Pat Rose, was a talented show jumper and Venetia began equestrian as an accomplished amateur jockey, achieving 10 jump-racing wins between 1986 and 1988 and also rode in the Grand National. But her competitive riding career came to an abrupt end when she broke her neck in a fall in a novice hurdle at Worcester. She turned her attention to training and now satisfies her love for speed at the wheel of an Aston Martin rather than at the reins of a racehorse.
Having gained experience as assistant to several well-established trainers, including former Ross-on-Wye handler John Edwards and Martin Pipe, Venetia soon established herself as a top trainer, nurturing winners of many big races - the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup and King George VI Chase, the Murphy's Gold Cup and the Grand Annual Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Only the second woman to train a Grand National winner, the softly spoken, elegant and private 49-year-old described Mon Mome's ride to victory with jockey Liam Treadwell as: "Unbelievable, beyond dreams."
Venetia Williams's Herefordshire life
Where do you live and why?
I live in Aramstone, between King's Caple and Hoarwithy. This was my grandmother's family home, which is why I'm here, but also because I like it here. We overlook the River Wye, which is about 300 yards away and there are villages around but we are surrounded by agricultural land. I love living by the river; it's very picturesque and Hoarwithy is a lovely village. And also we are five minutes off the M50 motorway so it's very easy to get anywhere. That's important when we have races to get to and it's good for the horses to be able to get on the motorway very easily because it makes for a good, easy ride in the horsebox without being tossed and turned around lots of corners.
How long have you lived in Herefordshire?
I was brought up in Cornwall and lived there until I left school when my parents (father and stepmother) moved up here. They now live about four miles down the road. I worked in London for a bit, Newmarket for a few years and abroad, but more or less I've been here since school age.
Why does it make a good place to train horses?
Nowadays with the advent of all-weather gallops, it's easy to train horses in most places, but it's important to have a decent hill where you can push them well on the gallop.
In the winter we will have about 100 horses in training and I have about 35 staff here at the yard. It's the busiest time of the year October through to the beginning of May. Now is the quieter time with the horses on their summer holidays.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in?
Probably going just outside of Herefordshire to the Cheltenham Races and having a winner on the Saturday.
If money were no object, where would you live in the county?
I think I'm very happy where I am. I don't know the county like the back of my hand but there are lots of very pretty places, especially now, which is the loveliest time of year. There are places more rural and off the beaten track and away from conurbation, but at the same time we are also five minutes off the motorway.
Where's the best pub in the area?
We go to The Lough Pool (www.loughpool.co.uk) quite a lot, which is just down the road. The food is good and there's often a fire burning in the winter.
And the best place to eat?
There are quite a lot of places really. I like going to The Bell at Skenfrith (www.skenfrith.co.uk), which is only about 15 minutes away, and I'm looking forward to the Butchers Arms reopening over at Woolhope.
What's the best thing about the county?
I think it would have to be the attractive countryside. We are quite lucky in that we haven't got a huge urban centre; there's Hereford, but it's relatively small.
... and the worst?
The potholes in the road! I just wrecked my car coming down the back road from Hereford to Hoarwithy. The road is in a shocking state and I drove into a pothole and completely wrecked the front suspension and ground to a halt within 50 yards. It was my favourite car as well, my Aston Martin, so I was very upset. I'm sure the insurers will be having a word with the council.
What's your favourite view in Herefordshire?
Driving back from Hereford to home; if there's a snarl-up on the bridge at Hereford sometimes instead of coming back via Hoarwithy, I'll come via Fownhope and when you go to the top of Capler Hill you can look back down the river towards home and that's a lovely view.
What's your quintessential Herefordshire village and why?
I'm very fond of Brockhampton village, which is part of the drive back along Capler Hill. It's very pretty and has a lovely church.
What's your favourite Herefordshire building and why?
Hoarwithy Church is very pretty. It's not typically 'Herefordian', it's actually Tuscan, but it's very striking and architecturally unusual for the area.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the county?
I've got a rather nice aerial photograph taken from a plane of Aramstone where I live and shows the River Wye as well, so I'd probably take that with me.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to Herefordshire?
Go to Herefordshire Races. The whole thing is very exciting and it's also fantastic to actually get up close to the horses and experience animals that do extraordinary things for us. To be able to appreciate that close up is very rewarding, which is something not a lot of people who go to the races take on board.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
This is supposed to be a bit of a joke, but I'd probably go into the jockeys' changing room at Herefordshire Races, to hear what they say...
To whom or what should there be a Herefordshire memorial?
Lady Bengough; she's quite a remarkable lady.
With whom would you most like to share a glass of Herefordshire cider?
All of my staff who work here at the yard. That would be lots of glasses of cider! We've had a drink to celebrate the Grand National win but another celebration would never go amiss.