Nathan Williamson – 300 Training Wins

Nathan Williamson – 300 Training Wins

Bruce Stewart

25th October 2021

The rise of Southland trainer Nathan Williamson continues, with the 2020 – 2021 season  the Branxholme based horseman’s best to date, both for the number of winners he’s trained and  the stakes winnings he’s earned.

Today’s win with Andy Hall at Ashburton brings his total to 300 wins all up! And to boot, he’s achieved the milestone in the shortest time in the provinces long trotting history.

He’s also closing in on the all-time Southland record of 333 winners, trained by the late Henry Skinner. It’s looking likely that by the end of the new season he’ll be Southland’s leading trainer of all time.  A remarkable feat for someone that’s just in his twelfth season of training.

Looking at the list of winners Williamson has trained, it’s clear they’re not over raced and when they do go to the races they have an excellent strike rate.

Williamson moved down to Southland from Oamaru in June 2008 straight after Springbank Richard won his second Harness Jewels. He initially worked for Branxholme trainer Kirk Larsen, before starting his own training career utilising Alex McDonald’s property on Flora Road.

“I never trained a winner from there, but I had a few young horses. One of them was Latheronwheel who ran in the Harness Jewels as a maiden two-year-old trotter,” he said.

In that season Latheronwheel recorded two Group placings.

From there he moved to Ryal Bush and trained at Grinaldi Lodge, a bespoke training establishment owned by Ben and Karen Calder.

“I started to train a few more horses so I rang Ben and he and Karen gave me a massive leg up. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them and will be forever grateful for their help. Ben still has shares in a few horses with me, so we’ve had a good association over the years.”

The Calder’s property had a purpose-built training facility including a track, two big barns, good paddocks and a swimming pool.

“Ross and Robyn (Jones – parents of Williamsons wife Katie) ended up selling Kina Craig Stud and moved down. They helped me for twelve months while I was at Ben’s.”

He trained a good number of winners for the Calders while he was there, including Burano, Foo Fighter and The Ultimate Kina.

Williamson’s first win came in December 2010 at Ascot Park when he trained Jaccka Justy to win on debut for Riversdale owner Charlie Smaill.

Jaccka Justy warming up on the day he won his first race

“It was Invited drivers’ day. Southland won the Drivers Championship and I ended up training my second winner that day which was Burano. Dexter drove him for me in one of the Invited Drivers races. It was a special day, and I can tell you I had a sore head the next morning.”

Jaccka Justy went on to win thirteen races for Smaill.

“He was an extremely talented horse but he had a few issues with his manners early on. Charlie took him home and sorted him out and that helped in making him into the super horse he was. He ended up going to the beach with Amber (Hoffman) and Jonny (Cox). He was an extremely good horse from day one.”

Owner Charlie Smaill certainly got the best out of the talented son of Continentalman, winning six races. Jonny Cox won with the gelding three times while Amber Hoffman and Jonny Cox won a further three races with him including the 2014 Group One Dominion Handicap.

It was while he was at Grinaldi Lodge that Williamson bought the property at Branxholme which at that stage was bare land.

“The track was the first thing to be put on the property. Ben gave me some great advice telling me that I need to set up the track and let it settle down before working horses in the winter. We used it initially to jog horses over the summer.”

After the track came the barns, stables and house. The setup now has sixteen original yards plus ten new ones and eighteen boxes.

File photo’s taken in 2017

His first winner from the property was Foo Fighter at the Invercargill Cup meeting in January 2017. Dark Horse won later that same day.

Foo Fighter warming up prior to his win on Invercargill Cup Day 2017

Dark Horse beating Monty Python on Cup Day 2017

“I like to keep to no more than thirty horses. We could handle more but I like to have a good number of staff per horse, so nothing is missed, and the horses are getting A1 treatment. I’d rather have it that way rather than stretching it.”

Williamson currently employs five staff – Ollie Kite, Chelsea Faithful, Georgia Goodman, Nicky Ward and Shaun Kennard.

Ollie Kite with Dark Horse in the cart

“I would say that I’m not an easy person to work for because I’m very meticulous. I like things done my way. I don’t like short cuts.”

Williamson prides himself on conditioning his horses so they’re ready on race day and as a trainer has an excellent strike rate (UDR).

“If I could have thirty horses I might as well have the best thirty. I always had a mindset never to turn young horses away because they have the potential to be anything. I’d rather train a young horse than a tried-and-true horse. In the last few years, I’ve tried to do that, and the results are starting to come through.”

Neville Cleaver is one of Williamson’s long-standing clients. Their first winner was Sunrise Delight at Gore in August 2011 which Cleaver owned with good friend Kevin Strong. Other winners owned or part-owned by Cleaver that have won for Williamson include Rocky Road (2), Onedin Mach (8), Aidens Rocket (3), Gangnam Style (3), Sundons Wish (2), Denn Nee Nose Best (1), Scarlett Lane (3), Revitalise (1), Delight N Gold (2), Franco Santino (9) and Ragazzo Mach (7).

In total he’s trained forty-four winners for Cleaver.

“He’s been a great owner. Sunrise Delight was the first horse I trained for him and Kevin Strong. We then went to the sales and bought Onedin Mach and ever since then he’s been pretty lucky really.”

Sunrise Delight

Onedin Mach

Williamson says it’s been Cleaver’s desire to always have a racehorse in his name that has led to him breaking one of his golden rules.

“He’s probably the exception to my rule. I’ve taken on horses like Delight N Gold and Scarlett Lane. Nev just took a cheap punt because he didn’t have any quality horses racing at that time. He just wanted to have a play around and keep involved in racing. Neville’s now got enough quality horses, so he doesn’t have to worry about those sorts of horses now.”

Delight N Gold

At the yearling sales in February Cleaver, who had just sold Ragazzo Mach for good money, outlaid $140, 000 for a Bettor’s Delight yearling out of in The Pocket mare Simply Devine, named The Black Flash.

“He’s doing everything right at this stage. He’s just gone out for a small break. It looks as though he’ll make a two-year-old.”

Williamson’s had some very good horses in the twelve years he’s been training and regards Armbro Invasion mare Poppymalda as one of the best trotters he’s trained along with Dark Horse. Poppymalda was bred by Canterbury horseman Mike De Filippi.

“Mike rang me and said he had a horse for sale. I ended up buying her and I took a third share with Ross and Robyn and Barry Dent. If she hadn’t got injured, she would have reached the top level.”

From just twenty-eight starts over five seasons she won eight races and was placed a further seventeen times. Her best season was in 2015 when as a four-year-old she won four races from just ten starts. That season she ran third in the Group One Four-Year-Old Ruby.


Dark Horse is another trotter that’s put the Williamson colours on the big stage. She won fourteen races over five seasons. She completely missed her six-year-old season and as a five- and seven-year-old only started seven times.

She was nursed back to racing a number of times which not only reflected Williamson’s high opinion of the mare but also his great conditioning skills.  Early on he believed she could have won a Dominion Handicap or a Rowe Cup.

“She was never that brilliant when she came back after breaking down the first time. She beat Group One horses in her early days. We think that if everything had held together it could have been exciting. She was a great mare and there’s every chance she’ll leave a great foal.”

Dark Horse

Williamson says the Griffins and Seafield Trotting syndicates that raced her, have planned with the Grices (horse’s owners) to race some of the foals out of Dark Horse, who will be served by Majestic Son this breeding season.

Art Major mare Shut Up N Dance was another talent.

“She was freaky good from early days. Dayle (Kinzett) and I decided to send her to the beach at Regan’s (Todd) to give her the best chance of getting to the races. She won three races which is more that she would have won if she’d stayed here. If she’d had good legs, she could have been anything.”

In the early days a horse Williamson held in high regard was Classievale which he’d bought at the yearling sales.

The three-year-old was by Courage Under Fire out of Heathvale and he won four workouts before winning his qualifying trial by seven lengths.

“Had I known what I know now I wouldn’t have sold him. I got really good money, but I would have liked to have raced him because he felt like an open class pacer.”

He won eleven races from twenty-eight starts and was good enough to run fourth in the 2012 Miracle Mile won by Caribbean Blaster.

As well as Nathan’s distinctive colours his helmet also has a uniqueness about it and there’s a story behind its origins.

“I was over in Australia with Springbank Richard. Ross (Payne) had just bought a new helmet and he said if you win the Victorian Derby, I’ll give you my helmet. I bought it home and found it much more comfortable than the one I had. It’s an Australian style helmet and Ross had done an Aussie design on it.”

The distinct helmet

He’s now concentrating on his next group of rising two-year-olds, picking out a Captaintreachous filly out of Shezaball and an Art Major full-brother to Shut Up N Dance as a couple he has high hopes for.

“They could have something there if they keep on improving”

He’s also dabbling in the breeding game and has four mares including Poppymalda who’s currently empty and Hawaiian Hula which is in foal to Marcoola.

He also borrowed I Smart from Brent and Raewyn Shirley and recently bought Bettors Delight mare Dakota Grace and is sending both to Captain Crunch.

Williamson is very appreciative of his family – his wife Katie, his father Phil who’s always just a phone call away, and Katie’s parents Ross and Robyn Jones, who live on an adjoining property. They’ve all been a big part of his success.

“Ross is the estate manager and Robyn looks after the children while Katie is teaching at Makarewa School. Katie also handles the books. She’s the brains of the operation when it comes to that sort of stuff.”

Williamson’s outstanding season was led by two exceptional horses in Pembrook Playboy and Razzazo Mach who between them, won five group races.

Pembrook Playboy winning at Addington

Pembrook Playboy also became his first $100,000 winner in one season and was named Southland Horse of the Year. Williamson also won the Southland Trainer of the Year award for the fifth time.

Chris Alcock owner of Pembrook Playboy with the Southland Horse Of The Year cover.

And with the fire power of horses like Andy Hall, Chinese Whisper, Get Up N Dance, Sand Wave, Hurricane Hendrix and Love Lou Longtime along with some promising young stock the success looks set to continue.

Williamson admits that training full-time is hard work and family life sometimes suffers.

“It becomes your life. Sunday is like a Monday and there’s no such thing as a weekend. It is pretty taxing on family. There’ll be a time when I’ll be able to slow down, I hope.”

It may not be anytime soon.

But with Cup Week fast approaching the excitements levels should justify his hard work.

The Top line:

Williamson trained horses which have won six Group or Listed races include:

  • Dark Horse – Listed Uncut Gems – Addington 2017
  • Pembrook Playboy – Group Three Central Otago Trotting Cup – Winton 2021
  • Pembrook Playboy – Group Three Invercargill Cup – Ascot Park 2021
  • Pembrook Playboy – Group Three Summer Cup at Addington – 2021
  • Pembrook Playboy – Group Three Northern Southland Cup – Ascot Park – 2021
  • Ragazzo Mach – Group Two Southern Supremacy Stakes – Ascot Park – 2021

Ragazzo Mach winning the Southern Supremacy Stakes

Pembrook Playboy winning the Invercargill Cup

He’s also trained a number of Group or Listed placegetters including: Latheronwheels (2), Jag’s Invasion (1), Onedin Mach (1), Tas Man Bromac (3), Poppymalda (1), De Vito (1), Dark Horse (4), Franco Santino (2), Ragazzo Mach (1), Pembrook Playboy (2) and Chinese Whisper (1).

Major winners (5 wins or more):

  • Dark Horse (T) 33-14-6-3 $144,276
  • Pembrook Playboy 26-11-3-6 $151,200
  • Onedin Mach 37-10-4-9 $68,338 (including two wins for Graeme Anderson)
  • Tas Man Bromac 31-10-7-7 $119,722
  • Franco Santino 40-9-8-3 $90,969
  • Splash Cola (T) 91-13-9-6 $140,777 (seven of these wins for Williamson, the balance being from Regan Todd’s stable).
  • Chinese Whisper (T) 17-8-1-3 $61,475
  • Poppymalda (T) 25-8-5-4 $58,045
  • Bet’s Bet (T) 20-8-4-0 $38,857
  • Ragazzo Mach 13-7-3-0 $79,262
  • Galaxy Hunter 37-7-8-6 $43,218
  • Booster 54-7-1-4 $35,652 (five wins for Williamson)
  • Grey Power (T) 49-6-6-6 $42,976
  • Stathem 22-6-7-0 $52,028
  • Dwindle Mist (T) 27-6-8-3 $42,999
  • Nickelson 29-6-11-4 $42,758
  • Triroyale Brigade 43-5-8-10 $55,345
  • Andy Hall (T) 17-5-2-3 $51,670
  • Kiwitrix (T) 26-5-6-1 $46,023
  • Seekie Monkey (T) 23-5-5-2 $40,740
  • Kiwi Focus 30-5-2-3 $31,735
  • Latheronwheel (T) 25-5-3-3 $38,429

100th winner: Dwindle Mist – Wairio 20th December 2014

200th winner: Franco Santino – Wairio 24th March 2018

Major Southern Race Winners:

  • Southern Supremacy Stakes – Ragazzo Mach 2021
  • Wyndham Cup – Triroyale Brigade 2020
  • Northern Southland Cup – Pembrook Playboy 2021
  • Riverton Cup – Tas Man Bromac 2015
  • Invercargill Cup – Pembrook Playboy 2021
  • Northern Southland Summer Cup – Franco Santino 2020
  • Roxburgh Cup – Tas Man Bromac 2016
  • Central Otago Cup – Pembrook Playboy 2021
  • Wairio Cup – Ragazzo Mach 2020
  • South of the Waitaki – Stathem 2015