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Dawn of a new era for Williams’s

3 minute read

It will be the dawn of a new era for Byerley Park trainers Peter and Dawn Williams, as they get set to enter into the next stage of life after announcing their retirement from racing.

Trainers Peter and Dawn Williams have announced their retirement from racing
Trainers Peter and Dawn Williams have announced their retirement from racing Picture: Race Images Photo

"I am 70 next month and I felt it was time to move on," Peter Williams said. "I think it is a younger persons game and we have got in and support these younger ones."

The husband-and-wife duo have been a dominant force in New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing for several decades, with Peter having trained for half a century when he hangs up his training hat.

"Next month it has been 50 years since I have had a (trainer's) license, and Dawn came onboard in the eighties. We have been doing it a long time," he said.

Racing is in Williams' blood, and he said he was always intent on a career with horses.

"Dad was a horse trainer and I went into partnership with him in 1975," he said. "We went on for two or three years, and when I married Dawn, we took over the stables."

Williams said he had a memorable start to his training career, teaming up with well-known jockey Brent Thompson on the West Coast of the South Island to record his first victory.

"The horse that probably gave me the big start was a horse called Bun Tuck, he was my first winner and Brent Thompson rode him at Greymouth in an invitation jockeys race," Williams said.

Group One performer Sir Clive and Group One winners Desert Lightning and Shuka have been particularly memorable horses for the Williams's over the years, but it was Sea Swift that had the biggest impact on their lives.

The daughter of Auk won the 1988 edition of the Gr.1 Auckland Cup (3200m), and the $500,000 purse helped her trainers establish their training centre in Ashburton.

"The Auckland Cup was a big win for us," Williams said. "Sea Swift won the Auckland Cup in 1988 and I think she still holds the track record today. It was the richest sporting event in New Zealand at the time and was worth $500,000.

"Winning that set us up because not only did we train her, but we also had a third share in her as well. That set us up to buy a 100-acre farm in Ashburton just off the town boundary. We set it up as a training establishment – it had its own track and starting gates. We trained a lot of winners from there."

From their Ashburton base, the Williams's campaigned frequently in the North Island and decided to eventually move north in 2011 to Byerley Park in South Auckland.

"We were getting sick of the travelling, and the earthquakes in the South Island weren't a help," Williams said. "It put us on the backfoot for a while and we found that we were doing too much travelling. We decided to make the move and come up, and we were lucky we did. A lot of owners followed us, and it has been great ever since.

"Daniel Nakhle (Byerley Park owner) has been a big part of Dawn and I's career over the last 10 years, and when we came up here, Colin Jillings (trainer) was good to us. He put a lot of horses and owners our way."

Williams was pleased with the support from their owners in their transition north, including Barneswood Farms' Sarah Green and Ger Beemsterboer, who have raced some quality horses over the years with the likes of Group One winners Planet Rock, Media Sensation and Desert Lightning, with the operation also having bred three-year-old sensation Orchestral out of their Group Three performer Symphonic.

"They started off small but got pretty big in the finish," Williams said.

While many top equine athletes have passed through their stable, so have some well-credentialled horsemen and women, including top harness driver Dexter Dunn and trainers Pam Gerard and Wayne Hillis.

"We have had a lot of people work for us over the years and Dexter was one," Williams said. "He used to come in after school and before school some days. He wanted to be a jockey, but I sat him down one day and told him he was going to be too big to become a jockey, so go into trotting. He did and he has done well. He came and saw us on Karaka Millions night.

"Pam Gerard worked for us for quite a considerable time in Ashburton, and Wayne Hillis was another.

"We have been very lucky to have been given some good horses to train, we have had good owners and a lot of good people have worked for us over the years."

In preparation for their retirement, the Williams's bought a property in Christchurch a couple of years ago and will head back down south in the coming months, with Barbara Kennedy set to take over their barn at Byerley Park.

"We will be shifting back to Canterbury, we bought a house in Christchurch two years ago," Williams said.

"Barbara Kenedy, Warren Kennedy's (leading jockey) wife, is going to move into the house here at Byerley and take the stables over. We will hang around a bit to help Barbara settle in.

"Barbara is getting her license and she trained 59 winners in three years in South Africa. Dawn and I give her our blessing, we think she can do the job. She is getting some nice horses to train and I just hope the owners support her."

While Kennedy will take over the majority of the horses in Williams' care, Group One winner Desert Lightning will head offshore.

"Desert Lightning will head to Australia, not that we don't have confidence in Barbara, but it was just in weight-for-age he is probably better suited over there now," Williams said.

Heading into retirement, Williams is looking forward to watching how racing unfolds at Ellerslie in years to come, with the newly-installed StrathAyr track undergoing remedial work over winter.

"I have got all the confidence in the world in Ellerslie, I think they have done a good job, just bad luck has plagued them a little bit," he said. "Paul Wilcox and the team there are doing their best, they just need things to go right for them."

Williams said the investment in the Auckland track has been the single most important development in his time in racing, and he believes the entire New Zealand thoroughbred industry needs to get in behind the club.

"When they built the new track at Riccarton, I had quite a bit to do with it. I worked in with Tim Mills (Canterbury Jockey Club chief executive) and the people who built it. That was big, but Ellerslie is bigger," Williams said.

"We need all of New Zealand to get in behind Ellerslie, because if that isn't going right then we haven't got a lot of hope in racing in New Zealand. We need Ellerslie to be an international track and all racing should lead into Ellerslie as far as I am concerned."


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