BIG RACE: Shelton's double chance for back to back
RACING: As he does on race days across the North Coast, this time last year John Shelton watched his horse round the corner into the top straight and kick for home.
However, it wasn't a midweek at Murwillumbah, or even on his Grafton home track his horses have dominated for years.
It was at Royal Randwick, and he was one of 40,000 to get on their feet to cheer his charge Belflyer in the inaugural $1.3million The Kosciuszko (1200m) race for the best horses in country NSW.
"I was watching it on the big screen, and he was pretty wide at the top of the straight, but he had to be there because of the wet track,” Shelton said.
"Then he slipped past one, and then another, and I thought 'he's going to win it'.”
The then seven-year-old gelding saluted by half a length, and in Shelton's usual routine to meet his horse and talk to jockey Adam Hyeronimus he was quickly swept up in the city crowds.
"Next thing there was press all over me, they just swamped me. It all happened so quickly,” Shelton said.
This year, Shelton and Belflyer are back with stablemate Tarbert to take on the 1200m sprint, and Shelton thinks that just like last year, people underestimate his charges at their peril.
"They seem to be again giving them not much of a chance, but it doesn't dent my confidence.”
And Shelton said that the horse doesn't need anything like another bottomless track to win the big race again.
"No, if the track's dry don't be worried about that,” Shelton said. "He's won a stack of races on dry tracks. I think he might be better on top of the ground - it lets him use his turn of foot.
"That was the first time he'd ever seen a track that heavy. He'd run on a couple of soft tracks, but we didn't know how he was going to go in it that day because he'd never been exposed to conditions like that. But he swam through it.
"He's just a good horse. It doesn't worry him, what the conditions are. He'll go through anything.”
Shelton said he viewed his other runner in the race - $17 chance Tarbert - similarly when it came to the track conditions for Saturday.
"It doesn't matter with him either,” he said. "They're both pretty good that way.”
Shelton has taken vastly different paths to The Kosciuszko with his two horses. Belflyer will attack it first-up from his last race start on April 13, while Tarbert raced twice in August, once in September and then again on October 1.
"Tarbert is probably the fitter horse race-wise, I suppose,” Shelton said. "He's had those recent runs and picked up two wins. But Belflyer has been prepared to go in first-up for a good reason - he's very effective that way.
"I couldn't have them any better. They both had gallops on the course proper at Grafton last Thursday to bring them into the final week the right way and I couldn't have been happier with their work.
"If I can get them to the race the way they look now, I'll be happy.
"I don't like rating one over the other. Maybe Belfyer has got a bit better turn of foot, but while 1300m might be best for Tarbert, he did win over 1020m at Grafton last start. He's a pretty adaptable horse.
"My horses are ready, and we've got the right jockeys with Glen Boss on Tarbert and Adam Hyeronimus on Belflyer. All we want now is a bit of luck on the day.” And as he aims to repeat what was one of the biggest days of his illustrious racing career, Shelton said it would be business as usual before the big race.
"We'll just keep an eye on them, give them a good work, and they'll do the same thing as if they were home,” he said.
"On the day, you're always nervy, and you hope the horses run well, but it's a bit of a scary thought I guess.
"To win at Royal Randwick... yeah, it's pretty awesome.”