Nick Williams is not an easy man to pin down for an interview. In February 2009, when I was assistant editor of this magazine, I was asked by my former boss to arrange a meeting with the Devon trainer, who had a live Cheltenham Festival candidate in the shape of star hurdler Diamond Harry.
So the call was made, an interview date was set, the photographer was booked and then… Mr Williams phoned up and informed me that it would have to be cancelled because his wife wasn’t happy with the plan, on the grounds that it didn’t fit in with the yard’s working arrangements.
I was very disappointed. Firstly, for the magazine, as it would mean we wouldn’t get the article we wanted and would have to come up with another idea, and secondly, for myself, because opportunities to pen features were few and far between for a novice writer trying to make his way in racing journalism.
Since becoming editor, I have wanted to ‘rearrange’ the feature, and this month, three years late, I’m delighted to say that we have managed to speak to Nick Williams. Or, rather, Nick and Jane Williams, because the training operation is anything but a one-man show.
There are many husband-and-wife partnerships among the training ranks but very few, I would guess, are like Mr and Mrs Williams. Take, as an example, Jane’s handling of the sale of promising hurdler Pistolet Noir to the Paul Nicholls stable.
“I sold him because I was in a strop,” she explains. “I said I was going to divorce Nick – because we were always getting divorced – and I needed the money to buy a house. I rang up Anthony Bromley and the deal was done.”
As it turned out, the decision was a good one – “he didn’t train on and the money paid for a new block of stables”, her husband confirms – which just goes to show how unpredictable racing can be.
While the couple clearly have their own way of operating, which extends to their strategy of buying jumping yearlings from France, enabling them to escape the huge price tags that accompany ready-made performers from across the Channel, a waiting list of owners is testament to their success.
Alan Lee’s exclusive piece with Nick and Jane Williams is not to be missed. On the subject of unusual relationships, Betfair and British racing have not always seen eye-to-eye since the betting exchange was launched in June 2000.
Licensed in Gibraltar, Betfair is not obliged to pay levy on British racing bets like a high street bookmaker, although it does contribute a voluntary payment. The question of whether this is sufficient has been the subject of much debate within the sport but Martin Cruddace, the company’s Chief Legal and Regulatory Affairs Officer and this month’s Big Interview, is adamant that Betfair is paying enough.
Cruddace goes on to say that increasing the levy rate of 10.75% is not the answer to UK racing’s funding shortfall, and warns that charging the betting industry more will prove disastrous.
“Even now [bookmakers’] promotional budgets are going to other sports that have a much better margin,” he says. “The pressure on us to emphasise other products would greatly increase the more expensive racing becomes.
“If you increase the rate of the levy, you might see a short-term spike, but it would lead to long-term decline.”
When Cruddace goes on to reveal how racing’s share of Betfair business has declined in the face of increased competition from other sports, such as football – a betting trend seen by all the big bookmaking firms – it certainly makes you sit up and take notice.
Yet, if they were all only allowed to bet on one sport, all things being equal, would they choose football or horseracing?
I think we all know the answer to that question.