Nowadays, Venetia Williams is an established, and instantly recognisable, star of the training ranks. In her younger days, Venetia was an accomplished amateur jockey – although, by her own admission, “not at all good enough to be professional” – riding 10 winners between 1986 and 1988.
However, her riding career came to an abrupt end when, two weeks after being knocked unconscious during a fall from 200/1 outsider Marcolo at Becher’s Brook in the 1988 Grand National, she broke her neck in a novices’ hurdle at Worcester. Fortunately, she had fractured, but not displaced, her second cervical vertebra – the so-called “hangman’s bone” – so, despite two months in traction, she was, as she later recalled, “very lucky, lucky not to have died.”
Venetia spent the next seven years under the tutelage of John Edwards, Martin Pipe, Barry Hills and the late Colin Hayes before taking out a training licence in her own right in 1995. She started from scratch, with just six horses in her yard at Aramstone, near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. Nevertheless, in April 1998 she acquired Teeton Mill, a nine-year-old grey gelding by Neltino, from Caroline Bailey, whom she trained to win five races including the Hennessy Gold Cup and the King George VI Chase later the same year. Teeton Mill started 7/2 second favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1999, but pulled up lame and never raced again.
Some years later, Venetia recalled, “He joined us in the April, but it was in his early autumn work that we realised he was something special and his rise was meteoric.”
Another of her early successes was Lady Rebecca, a diminutive mare who’d been sold as a yearling at the Doncaster Sales, but returned because she was a box-walker. A box-walker is a horse that tramps, because of boredom, stress or both, round and round its box. In any event, Lady Rebecca was resold for just 400 guineas, but went on to win the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham – at that time, still a Grade 1 contest – three years running in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
In a strange twist of fate, in 2009, 21 years after her one and only ride in – and dramatic exit from – the Grand National, Venetia Williams became only the second female trainer, after Jenny Pitman, to saddle the winner of the world famous steeplechase. Mom Mome, ridden by Liam Treadwell, who was having his first ride in the race, led after the last fence and drew clear on the run-in to beat Comply Or Die, the 2008 winner, by 12 lengths at odds of 100/1.