Danny Williams has saddled up 26.5 TAB Highway winners since the inception of the concept in 2015. He got a special thrill in 2017 when Don’t Give A Damn posted a 6.5 lengths winning margin at Rosehill. The following year he was full of admiration for pony sized mare She Knows who won Highways at Randwick with 59.5 kgs and 62.5 kgs respectively. He was equally chuffed when Shelby Sixtysix stormed home to win a Cl 2 Highway at Randwick in February 2022. Just three weeks later the same horse would take his trainer to Gr 1 status by winning The Galaxy.

It’s unlikely that any of the aforementioned Highway wins gave him more satisfaction than Atmospheric Rock’s stunning performance to win at Randwick on Saturday. Although resigned to the fact that the gelding would have to go back from a wide draw, Danny was concerned when he straightened for home some nine lengths from the leaders. “I thought we’d overdone it,” said the Goulburn trainer. “He had only four behind him in the big field as they turned for home, but made ground so quickly from the top of the rise that he was suddenly right in the race. He was strong right to the line and I can’t wait to get him out to 1400m. Despite my concerns during the race, Jason Collett told me he was never worried.”

Atmospheric Rock’s colours are similar to those carried by Phar Lap more than 90 years ago. He looked like Phar Lap as he stormed home to win the TAB Highway – courtesy Steve Hart Photographics.

Atmospheric Rock continues the recent winning run on metropolitan tracks by “bargain buys”. He was purchased by part owner Jamie Bramich for $7250 from the 2021 March Inglis Online Sale and later syndicated among friends and associates. He’s by Gr 1 winning sprinter Your Song from the unraced Stratum mare Space Odyssey who’d already produced four winners. Coincidentally three of those winners were by Your Song, the other by Nicconi. Atmospheric Rock has had just eleven starts for two wins and five placings for almost $158,000. Eight of his eleven runs have been in TAB Highways for a win, three placings and three fourths – yet another success story for the popular Inglis Online Auction.

“We’ve had to wait for him to put it all together,” said trainer Williams. “He had some immaturity issues early days which required patience and careful management. He’s still on the fragile side and will need to be handled carefully going forward. He’s basically a quiet horse around the stable but there’s a touch of arrogance when it suits him. For instance, if he’s being led by one of the team and wants to go somewhere else, he’ll try to get his way. We’re slowly winning. You tend to make allowances for these bad habits when they turn in performances like the one he produced on Saturday.”

Danny made it 26.5 TAB Highway wins when Atmospheric Rock was successful on Saturday – courtesy Bradley Photographers.

Danny’s hoping Atmospheric Rock will be one of three stable contenders for the Country Championship which begins at Lismore on Saturday February 17th. The trainer will be “sweating” on the gelding’s amended benchmark rating before considering his options. He prefers going straight into the Moruya Qualifier on March 3 rather than running in another metropolitan event. Stablemate Bandi’s Boy will also aim up for the Moruya feature, but will need a preparatory outing – either Rosehill on Saturday February 17th or a week later on the same track. Also Moruya bound is Stormy Witness who’ll get her Country Championship campaign underway in a BM58 at Goulburn on Thursday February 15th. “We’re juggling options and keeping the fingers crossed at the moment,” says Williams. “If all else fails we’ve still got the Wild Card at Goulburn on March 24th.”

Should Bandi’s Boy make it to the Newhaven Park Country Championship Final on April 6th, it will come as a massive relief to the Goulburn horseman. The widely experienced Williams rates Bandi’s Boy as the slowest learner he’s ever trained. “He still hasn’t learned to finish the job off when he gets to the front in his races. It’s as though he wants to wait for the other horses. He was at it again when he won at Randwick on January 27th. He looked half serious when he dashed through on the inside to grab the lead, before he started to wonder where they were. I hope the penny drops before this Country Championship gets under way.”

Another Randwick win for Bandi’s Boy 27/01/2024. He too is Country Championship bound – courtesy Bradley Photographers.

The rise and rise of Bandi’s Boy is yet another illustration of the glorious uncertainty of racing. Bred by his owner John Woods, Bandi’s Boy is the only foal of his dam Tibidabo whose life was claimed by a freakish paddock accident shortly before she was due to visit the stallion barn for only the second time. Her lone foal is by Brothers At War who stands at the Lamont family’s Kooringal Stud at Wagga and comes up with regular winners.

“We quickly identified his ability, but it was obvious he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed,” said Danny. “Because of his natural talent we decided to have a throw at the stumps first up in the Gr 3 Kindergarten Stakes at Randwick in April of last year. He started at $81.00 but vindicated our opinion by running a hell of a race. He finished fifth only 2.9 lengths from the winner Semillion after looming up menacingly on top of the rise.

Three weeks later the wayward youngster displayed the potential Dan knew was laying dormant. He contested the Schweppes Hcp with William Pike on board and started third pick at $9.00. He raced outside the leader Command Approved with favourite Zougotcha parked right on his heels. Bandi’s Boy got a “bee in his bonnet” from the 200m and politely veered to the outside fence – one heck of a shift. Despite doing everything but concentrate on the job, he still managed to beat Zougotcha by a clear length. It’s obviously worth mentioning that Zougotcha went on to win four stakes races including the Gr 1 Flight Stakes. Danny immediately sent his wayward two year old to the spelling paddock.

Bandi’s Boy (William Pike) lost his compass but still managed to beat Zougotcha in the Schweppes Hcp at Randwick 23/04/2022 – courtesy Bradley Photographers.

Bandi’s Boy resumed in a TAB Highway at Randwick four months later. He was never on the track from a wide gate before finishing third to two handy horses in Poker Jack and Participator. Just a few days after the race the gelding was injured in a freakish accident in the stable spa. “Only Bandi’s Boy could have been silly enough to turn himself completely around and try to come out the rear end of the spa,” recalled Danny. “We were horrified to find a nasty gash on the inside of his near hind leg. We got him over that injury but worse was to come. He was no sooner back in work when he was lame in the opposite hind leg. In a nutshell the vets said he had developed an abnormal amount of tissue within the foot adjacent to the navicular bone. Prognosis was a long time on the sidelines followed by a very gradual build up when he returned to training. It was almost a year before he was back at the trials. Thankfully the hind foot problem hasn’t bothered him since.”

Bandi’s Boy resumed in a BM78 at Rosehill on October 7th 2023, and immediately showed that he was still a dunce. With Jay Ford in the saddle he “walked” out of the gates and then for some reason best known to himself, tried to run off the track on the first turn. Danny would have been completely disgusted had the horse not registered a pretty slick final 600m in finishing sixth. Three weeks later he again missed the start, but recovered to win a TAB Highway at Randwick.

Bandi’s Boy (Jay Ford) wins his TAB Highway at Randwick 28/10/2023 – courtesy Bradley Photographers.

Next essay was the Barn Dance at Randwick last Melbourne Cup day. He again got two mentions in the steward’s report after finishing third just over a length behind I’ve Bean Tryin’. Time for a brief let up before getting on the Country Championship trail. Jay Ford was having his fourth ride on the enigmatic gelding when Bandi’s Boy won his BM78 at Randwick on January 27th. For the first time in his short career, he failed to warrant a single line in the steward’s report – faint praise indeed.

Here he is rising five years of age with only seven race starts under the belt. He’s been a work in progress for Danny Williams and his Goulburn team, but less patient handlers could have brought him undone. Bandi’s Boy is slowly starting to realise it’s better for all concerned if he maintains a straight line and gets on with the business of being a professional racehorse. The day he decides to put it all together this horse will make a big statement in a decent race.

(Banner Shot – Atmospheric Rock found the fast lane to swamp the opposition in the TAB Highway – courtesy Steve Hart Photographics.)

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