Trevor Williams has taken a few big gambles in his life. Last year, he quit his job after 10 years as a Winnipeg bank manager to become a full-time harness racing trainer. Last fall, Williams, 35, took a chance on leaving his home base of Manitoba to race full time in Alberta. Both gambles have paid off in spades.
Williams ended the 2021 season as Canada’s top percentage trainer for any conditioner with at least 150 starts with a batting average of .499 per cent - a point based system where wins are given nine points, seconds five points and thirds three points. Sunday, for the second straight racing card, he won three races, giving him the lead at Century Mile.
“Leaving the banking industry was a risk. It’s tough to leave a guaranteed pay cheque for something that has absolutely no guarantees. The bank was good to me but there’s no comparison to going to the barn in the morning and staring at a computer all day. When horse racing is in your blood, it’s a totally different feeling. It was just time and that time is now,” said Williams, who tried juggling both careers for six years -- working at the bank during the day and then cleaning stalls and jogging and training the horses at night. “It was too much to have two careers in two different provinces. I decided to take the plunge and I’m now a full-time trainer.”
Last year was the first time in 10 years that Williams didn’t work at the bank. But the results show it was a great choice. Williams started 181 horses in 2021. He won 64 of them, finished second 32 times and third 26 times.
“I’ve always had a pretty good percentage but to be the leading percentage trainer [with at least 150 starts] in Canada was really cool.”
In 2020, he won 31 of his 72 starts for a percentage of .544. In 2019, his percentage was .525 from 17 wins in 45 starts. In 2018, he won with 14 of his 34, which gave him a .575 rating. In 2017, he won with more than half of his 65 starts notching 34 wins. It was more of the same in 2016 (31 wins from 70 starts) and in 2015 -- his first year as a licensed trainer -- when he won 23 races, finished second 16 times and third 11 times for a percentage of .547.
Lifetime, Williams has won 220 races from 550 starts along with 88 seconds and 80 thirds for a staggering percentage of .537.
“Leaving the bank is paying off right now but it can change at any moment. I’m just riding the wave right now.”
Williams said he has had great owners, which allowed him to follow his lifetime dream.
“Aurel Vodon has four or five horses with me. He’s a horse breeder in Manitoba; he has about 15-20 broodmares. He’s been a big help.
“Adam Mace is a Manitoba lawyer. He started out with just a couple of horses and now he’s got seven or eight with me. And he’s starting to buy some pretty good stock.
“And then there’s Tim Gordon from Spruce Grove. He has six horses too. Those three owners make up the bulk of my barn.”
Starting off with six horses, Williams now has 25 horses in his barn including babies and horses returning from a break.
“And those numbers are growing all the time.”
As well as obviously being very talented, Williams also has a solid team to work with.
“I’ve been blessed with some really good help,” said Williams, who watches every race closely as well as the replays looking for a horse to claim that will climb up the ladder.
“I’ve got Bud Smith, who came from Ontario to be on the team. He treats all the horses as if they were his own. He loves to win. He’s got the same winning attitude that we all have. I asked him if he wanted to be on the team and he was immediately on board. Bud’s dad, Bob Smith, is on the team too.
“And then there’s my girlfriend, Robin Kornelsen. She’s a health care worker. It’s great to have another 'follow-your-dream' person by your side. All three are the main reason we can do this. Them and my owners.”
Williams came into harness racing naturally.
“I’ve been involved in horses my whole life. I’ve always loved them. My parents got me in. We used to go to the track together when I was young. My mom, Heather Williams, was always involved; she grew up in horse racing. And, my dad, Mike Williams, has owned horses for as long as I can remember. He still owns parts of horses in my barn,” he said of his father, who was president of the Manitoba Harness Horsemen while Trevor is currently the president of the Manitoba Standardbred Racing Industry.
The biggest question for Trevor is what’s next?
“I don’t know where we are going to live or race this year. We’re just taking it day by day. Winnipeg has built a new harness racing-only track called The Loop that is scheduled to open this June. It’s right next to Assiniboia Downs, which races only Thoroughbreds. The barns are up; the track is up. It’s ready to go. It’s obviously huge, huge news. We haven’t had harness racing in Winnipeg for 24 years. Since then, all harness racing in Manitoba has been on fair circuits in little towns throughout the province.”
Williams owns three of the fair circuit’s track records. Caress Of Steel paced in 1:57.3 at Killarney and then set the record at Glenboro (1:54.1). And, Red Star Tiger owns the record (2:00.3) at Morris.
“It’s been amazing that the fair circuit has survived all these years in Manitoba,” said Williams. “They have to be the most resilient bunch of people in the world. It’s a wonder how everybody has hung in this long. With a new track, hopefully everything is on the up and up.”
But he also likes Alberta.
“I’ve been watching the races from Alberta for quite a few years. I kept saying to myself, 'Why am I not out there?' So, at one point, I just said, ‘Let’s get this show on the the road.' I like everything about Alberta except the minus 40 weather. The purse structure is getting better. It was up two years ago and it was up again this past year. Alberta has three new tracks: Edmonton, Calgary and Lacombe. They’re all beautiful facilities. But they all want more race days.”
Those are some of the reasons Williams chose to come to Alberta.
“I’ve always posted big numbers. I wanted to see if that translated into coming to Alberta. 'How would we do in Alberta?' was the question. I always wanted to race in Alberta. I finally decided to test my luck elsewhere. Winning six races in two days at Century Mile shows that we can, in fact, make it here. We’ve now got some Alberta-bred babies that I hope are stakes contenders. I’d like to keep a stable here if I can.”
But those aren’t Williams only options.
“If I can race in Alberta for now and then maybe Manitoba when the new track opens maybe I can also go to Ontario. Who knows?”
Who knows is right. Especially when you put up the numbers Williams has set ever since he started training.
“The dream would be to have a stable everywhere. I was confident that I would do well in Alberta. But then you wonder if you’re really as good as you think you are,” said Williams, who has even surpassed his lofty expectations.
“Getting out here and doing it has been awesome. So, for the time being, we’ll just take a few deep breathes and continue on.”
(With files from Curtis Stock / thehorses.com)