SUNDAY: October 24, 2021: BRAD Widdup has come in from the “cold”!
In only his fifth full season – and Hawkesbury’s leading trainer for the last four – Widdup clinched his biggest success when his classy mare Icebath brilliantly won yesterday’s inaugural running of the $2m The Invitation (1400m) at Royal Randwick.
This time, thankfully for he and his owners, agonisingly close photo finishes weren’t the case either.
Pipped on the post in both the $7.5m Golden Eagle (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens 12 months ago and then the $3m Doncaster Mile at Randwick in April and right out of luck again in the recent Epsom Handicap over the latter course, Icebath ($6) gave her rivals a start and beating, leaving them with no excuses.
Ridden by Kerrin McEvoy, she came from last, surging down the outside for a dominant victory over Rocha Clock ($19) and Forbidden Love ($21).
In sports therapy, the theory behind an ice bath (exposure to cold) with athletes is that, after repetitive exercise, it helps to reduce inflammation and so-called “secondary” damage.
For Widdup, the “damage” in losing the Golden Eagle and Doncaster was a difference of a cool $3.775m to Icebath’s owners, to say nothing of elevating his own status as a trainer.
But he took it on the chin, never losing confidence his now five-year-old mare could win a “big one” if things went her way.
They did yesterday – and her $1m first prize shot her earnings up to $3.81m, and just as importantly boosted her value as a broodmare when her racing days are over.
“It was terrific to see her finally get the chance to do what I have always felt she could,” Widdup said this evening.
“Icebath has been terrific right through this preparation, but without luck until yesterday.”
As well as the mare’s owners, Widdup was especially delighted for his staff at his Hawkesbury stable.
“We’ve got a great team; you couldn’t win these races unless you have good staff,” he said.
“I have a terrific right-hand man in the experienced horseman Andre Rabbett, Rosie Jilla has been with me since the start and rides Icebath in her work, and Melissa McKenna is her regular strapper.
“When we got home last night, the staff had put up a banner which read: ‘Congratulations. We Did It.’
“That was pretty special.”
Widdup had served his time in Sydney and Brisbane learning his craft working for prominent trainers before launching his career at Hawkesbury in May, 2017, winning with his first starter Junglized at Canberra’s ACTON (synthetic) track.
Icebath was his 187th winner (and 13th this season) – but it has been far from an easy road.
Only two years into his training career, Widdup’s major client Damion Flower was arrested and jailed on drug importation charges.
He was left to find new owners and restock his stable – but made sure he didn’t lose New Zealand-bred Icebath (sired by dual Doncaster winner Sacred Falls and from Melbourne and Adelaide winner Fabulist, a daughter of Cox Plate winner Savabeel).
She was initially purchased for $100,000 at the 2018 Inglis classic yearling sale, and subsequently resold to her current owners.
“I liked her the first time I saw her,” Widdup recalled. “Her pedigree looked a good cross and although she wasn’t big, she was a good walker and very athletic.
“We ran her in a Group 2 (Sweet Embrace Stakes) and Group 3 (Magic Night Stakes) at Rosehill and her second and third starts; that’s how much I thought of her.”
When Icebath went on the market after finishing second in a Wyong Maiden in July, 2019 at the end of her two-year-old season, Widdup recommended her interested new group of owners get a stringent vet examination done on the then filly.
“I didn’t want them paying good money, and then have something go wrong,” he explained.
“It turned out she had chips in both front fetlocks, but the vet said it was because of immaturity and she would be fine after an operation.
“We did that and gave her plenty of time, and she has rewarded us.”
Icebath was the one that counted yesterday winning the richest race at Randwick, but Widdup almost had an even more special day, finishing seconds with Keefy ($21 in the $1m Bondi Stakes, 1600m) and Vulpine ($81, in the Benchmark 88 Handicap, 1200m).
. Whilst The Invitation, because of its newness and in spite of its rich purse, doesn’t yet carry Group 1 status, Widdup is hoping that elusive breakthrough at racing’s highest level is just around the corner.
“Icebath has pulled up really well and she will go to Melbourne by float tomorrow night with stablemates Adelong and Outlook and perhaps Showtime Lady,” he said.
“Andre (Rabbett) will drive to Melbourne tomorrow and be there to greet the horses when they arrive on Tuesday morning.
“I have nominated Icebath for two 1600m Group 1s at Flemington on Saturday; the $2m Cantala Stakes and $1m Empire Rose Stakes (the latter against her own sex).
“She has backed up well before, and there’s a good chance she will run on Saturday if she travels well and does well in the next few days in Melbourne.
“Otherwise, we can wait a week for either the Group 1 wfa Mackinnon Stakes or Group 2 Matriarch Stakes, both over 2000m.”