SATURDAY: October 29, 2022: WHAT a difference a week makes! 

Hawkesbury’s leading trainer Brad Widdup and his stable ambassador Icebath ($11) both clinched maiden Group 1 victories today when the classy mare shed her “bridesmaid tag” in the $1m Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) at Flemington on the opening day of the Melbourne Cup carnival.

Stark contrast indeed to Royal Randwick last Saturday when she failed to successfully defend the crown she won in last year’s inaugural $2m The Invitation (1400m), having bombed the start before finishing ninth.

Relieved to finally put a Group 1 alongside both his name and that of Icebath’s, Brad admitted it was a tough trip back to his Hawkesbury stable afterwards.

“It was a character-building drive for sure,” he said this evening. “I was so disappointed with what happened in The Invitation when she lost all chance at the jump.

“I wasn’t sure which way to go with her, and whether to wait a fortnight and run her in the Champions Mile at Flemington next Saturday.

“But when she quickly bounced out of The Invitation so well and knowing how she has proven in the past she can back up in a week, I decided to go ahead and send her to Melbourne for today’s race against her own sex.

“I’m just so pleased for Icebath, who certainly deserved to have a Group 1 win on her resume, her owners and our staff, who do such a terrific job.”

Unfortunately, Brad wasn’t able to be on track to saddle Icebath and had to watch from afar on television as Melbourne ace Craig Williams, who lifted his Group 1 tally to 70, hugged the inside in the straight on the mare as she sustained a determined surge from well back to land the Empire Rose at her 10th Group 1 attempt, beating $61 roughies Mirra Vision and Excelida.

He picked up an ear infection, and yesterday had to cancel his planned trip to Melbourne to saddle Icebath, leaving her in the very capable hands of his foreman Andre Rabbett and partner Rosie Jilla, who has ridden her since she entered the trainer’s stable as a yearling.

Icebath has now won five races – along with 16 minor placings – and boasts earnings of just over $5.2m.

From those 10 Group 1 attempts, the six-year-old daughter of dual Doncaster Mile winner Sacred Falls (2013-14) had been placed on five occasions, including a photo-finish second in last year’s Doncaster to Cascadian and a third to Mr Brightside earlier this year.

Icebath also was edged out 12 months ago by Superstorm in the Cantala Stakes (now the Champions Mile, which will be run next Saturday at Flemington) a week after winning the first running of the $2m The Invitation at Randwick.

Not to mention, of course, yet another gut-wrenching second in the $7.5m Golden Eagle (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens two years ago, when pipped on the post by Colette.

All that is history now. No longer are trainer and his mare Group 1 bridesmaids!