Williams taking watching brief on Festival run for Libberty Hunter

Ground will be key in the Cotswolds for leading Grand Annual fancy.

Ground conditions are set to have a major bearing on Libberty Hunter’s participation at the Cheltenham Festival next month.

Trained by Evan Williams, the eight-year-old has made a bright start to his chasing career and having recovered from a fall on his fences bow by winning with ease at Wincanton on his second outing over the larger obstacles, landed a blow in a highly-competitive event at Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day.

He claimed the scalp of Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Arkle-bound Matata on that occasion and is as short as 9-1 in places for the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual.

However, with the best of Libberty Hunter’s form coming with soft underfoot conditions, Williams is willing to delay confirming the gelding’s participation until the going at the track becomes clearer.

He said: “I couldn’t say we’re aiming at it (the Grand Annual), as that would be a lie, but he has an entry and we will see how the weather is and everything like that because he will want plenty of cut in the ground.

“We’ll keep an eye on the weather and the opposition and go from there. He’s certainly not been aimed for the race.

“I’m not sure if it’s an ideal opportunity for him, but it is always a plus when they have shown a bit of form around the track. I have always had the notion horses who run well round Cheltenham will run well again round Cheltenham.

“We will have a look at it and there will be plenty in there that won’t turn up. But the ground will have a massive impact on which way we think and I’ll speak with Mr and Mrs Rucker closer to the time and go from there.”

Evan Williams will make a late call on Libberty Hunter's participation at the Cheltenham Festival
Evan Williams will make a late call on Libberty Hunter’s participation at the Cheltenham Festival (David Davies/PA)

Williams has struck at the Cheltenham Festival with High Chimes (Kim Muir, 2008) and course specialist Coole Cody (Plate, 2022) in the past, but Libberty Hunter could be the only horse flying the flag for the Vale of Glamorgan handler this time around.

However, the Welshman has no issue with missing out on the action in the Cotswolds and will quite happily point his horse box in whatever direction necessity dictates during Festival week.

“The other fella (Minella Blueway, Pertemps) won’t get in and is not qualified so the only chance of a runner will be Libberty Hunter,” continued Williams.

“We won’t be watching from the sofa though, if we’re not there we’ll be watching runners at sunny Sedgefield.

“We don’t want to be idle and there’s plenty of races around the country for fellas like us, we don’t have to be concentrating on Cheltenham every year – there’s plenty of meat on the bones of British racing and we don’t have to be looking for a piece of that fancy stuff all the time.”

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