His jockey that day, Mathew Cahill, had no reason to imagine a future for the horse, other than that he would soon be riding it again on the same track.
“He ran well but couldn’t pick up the leader [Cavalier Charles, which runs in the Country Championships on Saturday]Cahill said. “I couldn’t see a future Group 1 winner.
“I’ve been in racing for a while and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse improve so much in a short space of time.
“You may see young horses improve, but he is quite experienced, Shelby Sixtysix. He has been around for a while. In fact, I thought he was a useful country horse and thought he would ride it again. Instead, I’m watching in group 1.”
The modern Thoroughbred is finely tuned and seen less than ever. They run and recover, coming back two, three, four weeks later. They don’t go every week.
Shelby Sixtysix lived up to Cahill’s thoughts in his next three races in just four weeks at Highway Handicaps: Saturday Sydney races restricted to field-trained horses who haven’t won too many races.
He ran fifth, second and finally broke through on a heavy 10 track at Rosehill on February 22. His third career win took his earnings to over $100,000.
That win was like a switch being flipped, and Shelby Sixtysix became the horse Williams saw in 2018.
“I have no doubt that the wet tracks help him, because he doesn’t feel his legs after the races. He can trust that he doesn’t hurt her,” Williams said.
“He has bruises on his bones, which makes him difficult to train because you can’t do much with him to keep him in shape. Running like this is the only way.”
It was clear that Shelby Sixtysix needed to race, so a week later he faced off in the Group 2 Challenge Stakes against the best sprinters in the country. She got past Nature Strip, TJ Smith’s two-time defending champion, and just couldn’t run Eduardo.
“He was just there because it was a small field and I thought he might pick up a useful check,” Williams said. “We were looking at how to get into the Country Championships.
“I was in a rut: run, come home, recover, swim and walk and run again next week.”
Williams looked at the schedule and saw the Maurice McCarten Stakes next week, a Group 3 race that gave him a chance at another race to keep the streak going.
“We have gone every week without knowing where we will go next. He would win and things would change again,” Williams said. “The races he was watching back then are way behind where he is now. He is amazing “
Shelby Sixtysix loves wet weather, and Rosehill was heavy again when he took a win that opened the door to bigger and better things. Next stop, Golden Slipper day and The Galaxy.
Williams’ five-year-old had developed a strong following by then and bookies were grumbling about his losses when he won again, this time in a Group 1.
“They used to want a ticket with the name Black Caviar on it; now it’s Shelby Sixtysix,” said TAB’s Glen Munsie. “Stakers want to be a part of this fairy tale.”
Shelby Sixtysix will enter the courtyard with Nature Strip, the world’s best sprinter, Eduardo and the Masked Crusader, all stars, but he will be the center of attention.
Bookies have made more money on Goulburn’s fairy tale horse than on the other three combined.
“It’s been a dream,” Williams said. “We couldn’t have said a month ago that he was going to be in the TJ because he hadn’t won a group race.
“I had no idea this could happen.
“Just to participate in the TJ, I paid the most money in an entry fee, $55,000, because we didn’t enter it.”
Tommy Berry will step aboard the TJ Smith, a race he has won three times at Chautauqua and knows the anticipation.
“Aside from Chautauqua, I’ve gotten more phone calls about this horse than any other,” Berry said.
“It was very different with Chautauqua because he had been there and done it. He was on his third TJ and this time his form wasn’t that great and they were asking him if he could do it.
“With Shelby Sixtysix, his form is impeccable and they still ask if he can do it.
“It has been very impressive on these wet tracks. The biggest concern for him going into the weekend is the two weeks between races.”
The break also has Williams concerned.
“We have broken that formula,” he admitted. “He has put me under pressure because the horse is in a position where two weeks is too long between races.
“He is such a disgusting horse that he has already put on weight. In fact, he came out of his last race too well.
“We are facing the best, and I think he is ready for that.
“I just hope I don’t disappoint anyone.”