Hawick racehorse trainer Alistair Whillans hands over reins at yard to son Ewan

Racehorse trainer Alistair Whillans is enjoying taking a back-seat after handing over the reins at his Hawick yard to his son Ewan.

By Craig Goldthorp
Monday, 13th September 2021, 4:21 pm
Updated Monday, 13th September 2021, 4:21 pm
Alistair Whillans has stepped down as head racehorse trainer at his Hawick yard (Photo: Bill McBurnie)
Alistair Whillans has stepped down as head racehorse trainer at his Hawick yard (Photo: Bill McBurnie)

The 66-year-old went out on a high note after over three decades in charge of his stables at Newmill and previously Acreknowe, notching up a win on his last outing as 18/1 shot Zealous triumphed in a one-mile race at Carlisle.

That was his 372nd winner of his 33-year career as a handler.

"I thought Zealous would do pretty well,” said Whillans, now assistant trainer to son Ewan. “The ground’s been pretty quick and he needs a bit of cut in the ground, a wee bit of rain, and he likes the track. I did fancy him.”

Hawick jockey Ewan Whillans with dad Alistair and Pay On, right, after beating Beau Largest, ridden by Garry Whillans and trained by Donald Whillans, at Kelso in 2008 (Photo: by John Grossick)

Zealous’s victory ranks high in the overall list of his successes, he says, but he rates the top two to be Major Bell winning the 1999 Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster and Samstown landing the 2015 Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in Merseyside.

Whillans, married to Lesley and also dad to daughter Rachel, added: “I had been waiting for a while to retire.

“I’ll definitely miss it, but I don’t have a lot of time left at 66. I will do a bit of fishing.

“My son Ewan took over the licence and I said I would guide him and give him a hand.

“We could have had a combined licence, but I just thought I would let him take over and take all the grief from the owners!

“Ewan took over in the first week but then I did the second week because he got Covid.

“I have high hopes for Ewan in the role of trainer because he does a good job. He’s been helping since he was 16, so he knows the ropes.”

His son, 36, made a winning start to life in the hot-seat with victories over jumps at Stratford in Warwickshire in his first two races. Cracking Destiny won the opener at 5/1 before 50/1 outsider Scots Poet triumphed in race two.

“We knew Cracking Destiny was a good horse and we knew he was going down with a good chance,” he said.

“His Australian owner was keen for him to be my first runner and my it’s my kids Aoife and Adie’s favourite horse. They lead him round the field, brush him, hose his legs and all the rest of it. He’s like a pet basically and will probably have a home for life here.

“Him winning was not too surprising, but Scots Poet winning was definitely a surprise.

“I wasn’t thinking that this training lark was easy at that stage because 50/1 winners are few and far between. It was good.”

Despite the fact that he has stepped down to let his son assume the main trainer’s role, it would be inaccurate to say that Whillans will be taking it easy from now on.

He explained: “I’m still coming in at 5.30am and then working through until my lunch at 1pm. The stables run from 7am until 2.30pm, then we have a break and the boys come back from about 5pm to 6pm and I’ll go back in about 7pm just to check everything over.

“I don’t mind the physical side, running and helping. Ewan has taken the side of speaking to new owners who have taken over in the last five years.

“There are some of the older owners who are friends as well that I speak to quite regularly.

“An odd time I’ll still go to race meetings because I still have two or three horses in the yard that belong to myself so obviously I’ll go with them.”

His successor is keen to keep up his father’s good work, saying: “When my dad started at first, the training was just a hobby, but over the years he had a bit of success and it just gradually got bigger and bigger.

“Like anything, you just want to be successful and train horses to win races.

“I just want to keep building year on year. I still need to get plenty of winners to catch up with my dad.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​