With more than £3 million to his name in prize money over the past five National Hunt seasons, Vale of Glamorgan racehorse trainer Evan Williams is no stranger to winning.
His CV is long and illustrious, although unexpectedly he has just one victory to his name at perhaps British racing’s premier event: the Cheltenham Festival.
That came way back in 2008, so that’s definitely an itch that the Llancarfan handler wants to scratch. And he might have a chance to do exactly that in 2024 courtesy of a jet-propelled maiden hurdler…
In his two wins to date, Minella Missile has certainly lived up to his name.
That’s why those who bet on Cheltenham Festival 2024 can already back the six-year-old at 25/1 to win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the meeting in March.
Others likely to be prominent in the Cheltenham Festival predictions for the race include Chapeau De Soleil (12/1), High Class Hero (12/1) and Croke Park (14/1), while it should be noted that Williams could yet point Minella Missile at the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle at the meeting, for which he also holds a pre-declaration early entry.
Either way, the Welshman knows he has a terrific prospect on his hands. The bay horse made his Rules debut over hurdles at the beloved Chepstow track in October, catching the eye with a surprise two-length win over the favourite, Don’t Tell Su, as a 20/1 outsider.
Unbeaten rules record intact ✅
Minella Missile takes the steep rise in class in his stride as he sees off red-hot favourite Captain Teague and The Big Doyen up the hill to win the Grade 2 @TrustATrader Novices’ Hurdle.@EWilliamsRacing has a good one on his hands pic.twitter.com/gPQOfRH2le
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 17, 2023
But the best was yet to come, with Williams’ charge triumphing in a Grade 2 outing on Cheltenham’s Old Course in November, where he again downed a handsome bookmakers’ favourite – this time Captain Teague was on the receiving end of the Missile’s launch.
It was an emotional day for owner Janet Davies, who lost her husband just prior to the Cheltenham meeting. Minella Missile at least provided some comfort with her 100th career win as an owner.
“Evan said when he won at Chepstow, ‘you have a nice horse’. But I didn’t think he would be that nice!” Davies said. “It’s been a difficult year, but that was amazing.”
A Cheltenham Festival victory would be something else altogether…
— Janet Davies (@jaydee58) December 18, 2023
Hitting the Right Notes
Williams still remembers his last win at the famous Festival with pride.
And it came in rather unexpected circumstances. High Chimes was an unpredictable sort who never looked the part until a win on ‘home’ soil at Chepstow in March 2007.
Expectations suitably raised, the horse then ran poorly in his next three starts – the last of which, at Warwick, saw High Chimes pulled up by jockey Paul Moloney, so laboured was his effort.
Fast forward to March 2008 and Williams and his stable team travelled to Cheltenham more in speculation than expectation, but High Chimes – as he was so prone to doing – upended the formbook once more.
His start to the Kim Muir Challenge Cup was littered with jumping errors, but the nine-year-old ploughed on to find himself clear with two obstacles to jump. A strong surge sent him 12 lengths clear of the field, before a late dally brought the chasing pack into contention.
But as Williams’ heart started to race, High Chimes found one final gear change to take the spoils and the £36,000 top prize.
What the popular trainer would give for a repeat with Minella Missile in March…