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Image: Steve Hart

Trainer Danny Williams and his now much celebrated Galaxy Group 1 winner Shelby Sixtysix have already secured their place in ‘the best racing stories of the season’ folder.

The Galaxy might have provided both horse and trainer with their first Group 1 win, but an old adage was also very much in play, front and centre, both per-race and in the aftermath of a hugely popular victory, namely that everybody loves a story of an underdog making good.

Shelby Sixtysix’s rush to the top has been well documented. Backing up almost non-stop over the last eight weeks, Shelby Sixtysix’s trajectory has been as steep as it has been satisfying.

The five-year-old son of Toronado went from being a beaten runner in a Class 3 Highway on February 19 to backing up to win a Highway. He then backed up to run second to Eduardo in the Challenge Stakes (when beating Nature strip home and going so close to causing a major upset) … backed up to win the Group 3 McCarten and then, the icing on the cake, backed up to win the Group 1 Galaxy.

Quite amazing stuff. As they say, you couldn’t script it.

“I just can’t believe it,” said Williams on racing.com’s After The Last program. ‘It’s been a little bit of a ride that I don’t quite understand … but I’m really enjoying it.

“I’ve got to keep checking my back to make sure I haven’t got wings on. I’m absolutely flying at the moment. I’m in the clouds.”

Yet, for all of that, it was almost an afterthought, as the Challenge Stakes, loomed that changed Shelby Sixtysix’s destiny, as Williams explained on racing.com.

“How it came about that he ran in the Challenge Stakes (as a Highway winner against the likes of Eduardo and Nature Strip) was we were looking for runs for Ahead Start and Shelby Sixtysix.

“Originally it was my idea to start Ahead Star in the race to give him a bit of fitness. We were frustrated at not being able to get him to the races and he was a bit gross in condition … so I said to my manager to nominate the horse for the Challenge Stakes … and he said, if you are going to do that why not enter Shelby Sixtysix. We’ve got nowhere else to go. So, I said ok.”

You could call that a defining moment in both Danny Williams and Shelby Sixtysix’s career.

In another twist from the original plan, Ahead Start was one of four runners scratched from the Challenge Stakes on the day, leaving only four runners to face the starter … Nature strip ($1.70), Eduardo ($2.30), Spintex ($20) and Shelby Sixtysix, who was all the way out in the betting at $61.

Shelby Sixtysix finished second, just 0.20 lengths behind Eduardo and a length clear of Nature Strip. The run was massive.

“With only four starters, I knew we were going to pick up some prize-money and I thought we would be basically giving the horse a barrier trial … but the surprise was, it was a lot better than that,” said Williams.

“He does like to back up week after week and we’d had plenty of rain, and that seems to suit the horse, so we decided to back up into the McCarten.

“I was nervous because I didn’t know if the run (in the Challenge Stakes) run was a one-off, because we couldn’t explain the improvement in the horse. We thought maybe it was a fluke, but the horse had done very well and we had nothing to lose … and, lo and behold, the horse won the Maurice McCarten.”

The next step was landing Group 1 glory in the Galaxy.

“The energy of Shelby Sixtysix and myself and Robbie (Dolan) picking the ride up … everything went right, the gaps opened, the horse travelled … I think was just meant to be,” said Williams.

“The punters will miss him this week, but we will strongly consider running him in the TJ Smith next Saturday.

“It is certainly starting to hit home with me what he has done and what he has achieved. One of the biggest thrills I’ve had in the last three weeks is just seeing the social media posts that have ben behind Shelby Sixtysix, the support of the $2 punter … and just how much he has meant to people.”

Doubtless that ever-growing band of followers will be primed to give another real show of support for Shelby Sixtysix when he next appears in race action when the story that has already enthralled so many people will continue.

 
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