Danny Williams was feeling a little sceptical about European horses by the time Marsabit arrived at his Goulburn stables in September of 2021. He’d had two previous involvements with imports for two very unhappy experiences. Danny actually attended the 2015 Tattersall’s Horses in Training Sale at Newmarket with owner Phillip Pollicina who paid 65,000 English pounds for a two time winner called Secateur. “He’d won a couple of races over long trips and was placed a few times from only twelve starts,” said Danny. “By the time we got him to Goulburn he probably owed Phillip around $150,000 AUD. Not long after arriving he came down with a serious virus. He eventually got to the races but failed to strike any real form. He managed a couple of fourths at Rosehill but didn’t win in eleven Australian starts.”

Danny’s second association with an overseas purchase produced another bitter disappointment. The horse was a New Approach gelding called Biodynamic who’d won an eleven furlongs race at Kempton Park, and had run as a 100/1 “pop” in Harzand’s Epsom Derby, finishing many lengths from the winner. By the time Biodynamic took up residence at the Williams stables, there was little change from around $80,000 AUD. “Imagine how I felt when history repeated itself,” said Williams. “Biodynamic came down with a virus which left him with dreadful complications. After a while he lost all strength in both hind fetlock joints. Before long both “bumpers” were touching the ground. He couldn’t support his body weight. The farrier fashioned hind shoes with trailers protruding about four centimetres past his heels, giving him the support he needed. Happily he got to the races and actually won a couple at Moruya and the Sapphire Coast, but was obviously not the horse we’d hoped for.”

Biodynamic (Shaun Guymer) wins a BM58 at the Sapphire Coast in 2020. He’s one of only three imported horses to be trained by Danny Williams – courtesy Bradley Photographers.

Danny got Marsabit to train under totally different circumstances, but was wary of another import nevertheless. From thirteen UK runs the chestnut gelding had won four races, all at one mile. He’d been an odds on favourite in wins at Doncaster and Leicester. He was purchased by an Australian syndicate which included his future trainer David Payne. “He was a handful from the moment he arrived at my stable,” said David. “Some days he didn’t want to come out of his box. On other occasions he’d “jib” and refuse to go onto the track. He put on quite a show the very first time I gave him a barrier trial. He jumped out of the gates, propped and refused to move. He was unplaced in a couple of runs for me, but his antics continued and I suggested a change of environment to the other owners. There are too many distractions at Rosehill for a horse with that kind of mindset. Danny Williams had my highest recommendation, and I was the first to congratulate him on Saturday.”

Marsabit’s quirky behaviour continued for quite some time after he arrived at Goulburn. “His favourite party trick was to take a mighty leap in the air, and on landing he’d just stop dead,” said Danny who rode him the bulk of his work. “He did that eight or ten times. On another occasion he was galloping with two other horses on the course proper when he spotted a horse at the gap whose rider was waiting for us to go past. He just veered left, slammed on the brakes and skidded towards the outside fence. He stopped just in time. It took several weeks before he started to cooperate.”

Danny Williams was David Payne’s choice to take over the training of Marsabit – courtesy Bradley Photographers.

Danny had suspected for some time that the horse “felt his legs” on firmer ground and actually added concussion plates when Marsabit had his first run for the stable in a midweek event at Rosehill on September 28th. On a Good 4 track the horse got on one rein soon after the start, and finished well back. He struck a Soft 6 at Canberra three weeks later and raced much more generously to finish third. There was an unexpected change of ownership not long after the Canberra race when the original ownership syndicate decided to enter Marsabit for the Inglis Digital Online sale. By this time Danny was very happy with the way the horse was going and had resolved to treat him at all times like a horse who was “jarring up” on firmer tracks. After consulting with the ownership group, the trainer made the decision to bid for the horse himself and acquired Marsabit for $35,000. Within a week one of the original owners Wayne Shelton had bought back in, and soon after stable clients Bill Kelly and Slavko Rezo had also snapped up shares. They may have harboured misgivings when Marsabit never looked likely in a strong Goulburn Cup on a firming Good 3 on October 30th. He finished 7.5 lengths from the winner Oscar Zulu, while subsequent metropolitan winners Coal Crusher and Mensa Missile finished second and fourth respectively.

“He was very touchy the day after the Goulburn Cup and I backed right off him over the following week,” said Danny. “He was way too fresh when he ran in a BM78 on Hunter day at Newcastle. Ashley Morgan said he’d run his race before the turn, but battled on to finish midfield about 7.5 lengths from Redwood Shadow. The horse had been faultless between Newcastle and Saturday’s Country Classic at Rosehill – all business, no nonsense, no shenanigans. I was worried about his wide gate and the very firm track, but I expected him to run much better than his price suggested he would.”

The trainer opted for a 3kg claim bringing Marsabit’s weight to a luxury 53kgs. The young lady assigned the task by the astute Williams was the vastly improved apprentice Amy McLucas, who cleverly angled the chestnut across from gate 15 to be midfield, one horse off the fence by the first turn. Amy was trapped between horses on the hometurn and looked to be in trouble fleetingly. Straightening for home the Goulburn apprentice politely nudged Lord Desanimaux and Tim Clark out of the way, to be in a challenging position at the 200m. Marsabit must have been feeling the firmest Sydney track in a long time because he suddenly started to wander outwards. With the aplomb of a veteran jockey Amy switched the whip to her left hand and gave the import a swipe. This should have encouraged Marsabit to straighten up. Instead he defied the rule book by shifting abruptly outwards a further three horses. Testimony to the gelding’s natural ability was the fact that he was still able to comfortably beat Little Dance winner Dream Runner with Beckford in third place. The $150,000 Country Classic triumph marked a milestone 100 career wins for the innately talented Amy McLucas. This little girl’s 3kg claim will be keenly sought by city trainers in the months ahead.

Marsabit tried a few of his old tricks in the straight but still proved too good in the Country Classic – courtesy Steve Hart Photograhics.

Danny Williams must be wondering when a talented, problem free horse will walk into his Goulburn stables. When I caught up with him on Sunday morning he was about to drop Shelby Sixtysix at a Mittagong spelling farm for a brief break. The horse had already spent a fortnight in his Goulburn stable getting over one of his trademark quarter cracks. Shelby’s recent spring campaign bore little resemblance to his unforgettable purple patch in the autumn of this year. He made a massive statement with a close second to Eduardo in the Challenge Stakes with Nature Strip third. Then came a strong win in the Gr 3 Maurice McCarten Stakes which topped him up for the Gr 1 Galaxy at Rosehill. It’s now bordering on racing folklore that he won the elite sprint with Robbie Dolan up, just three weeks after winning a TAB Highway. Shelby Sixtysix’s induction as “Champion Country Horse Of the Year” for 2022 was warmly received, as was Danny’s receipt of the Caryl Williamson NSW Racing Writer’s Personality of the Year Award”.

It’s well documented that Shelby Sixtysix’s joint problems greatly restrict his number of track gallops, but he does need to race regularly to gain any semblance of fitness. The all too familiar quarter crack appeared again after his second run back from a spell in mid September. With careful management and expert shoeing Danny was able to keep him going, but the son of Toronado was struggling with his lack of fitness against class opposition. He hadn’t been placed in five spring runs when the trainer produced him in a high quality stakes race at Flemington on Melbourne Cup day. With his fitness levels somewhere near optimum, Shelby Sixtysix ran a cracking second to Vespertine in the MSS Security Sprint. “I can’t afford to leave him out for too long or he’ll just get away on me,” said Dan. “I’ll bring him back from the paddock after two weeks and hope he retains some of his residual spring fitness. He deserves another crack at some of those top races in the autumn.”

A fairy tale win! Shelby Sixtysix wins the Gr. 1 Galaxy just three weeks after a TAB Highway success at Randwick – courtesy Bradley Photographers.

Meanwhile Danny is hopeful a couple of his promising three year olds will emerge as Country Championship contenders next year. One of them is Bandi’s Boy whose three career starts have all been at Randwick. In winning an open sprint last year he defeated subsequent Gr 1 winner Zougotcha. The other is Atmospheric Rock, an impressive maiden winner on Goulburn Cup day which he followed with seconds at Gundagai and Kembla. The astute trainer is quietly confident both horses will make a statement over the autumn carnival. Getting back to Danny’s Country Classic winner Marsabit, and the trainer says he may appear again as soon as Saturday December 3rd. “Provided he shows no sign of discomfort after Saturday’s run on the firm track, we might look at a BM78 over 2000m at Rosehill,” says Dan. “His long coat is still coming away believe it or not. He’s not there yet. We’ve just got to keep him happy. We’ll know about it if he’s not.”

Danny was delighted to supply Amy’s 100th winner – an important milestone for the talented apprentice – courtesy Bradley Photographers.

(Banner image – Amy McLucas was all smiles as she returned to scale on Country Classic winner Marsabit – courtesy Steve Hart Photographics)