THURSDAY: February 24, 2022: BRAD Widdup warmed up for a tilt at clinching an overdue stakes victory with Icebath at the weekend by bringing up his 32nd victory of the season at Newcastle today.
And it should have been a double as Zalini ($3.80) was unluckily beaten earlier in the day before Stellar Performer ($12) returned to racing in winning style in the Benchmark 64 Handicap (1300m).
Whilst Jockey Jason Collett couldn’t get clear in time on runner-up Zalini to overhaul $3.30 favorite Greenheart in the Class 1 Handicap (900m), he saved valuable ground in the straight to get the lightly-raced mare home in a tight finish, edging out fancied pair Black Bolt ($4.20) and Sing A Love Song ($3.60 favorite).
Stellar Performer, a four-year-old daughter of Golden Slipper winner Sebring and the unraced Street Cry mare Stellatina, is raced by Paul Fudge’s Waratah Thoroughbreds and has now won three of her seven starts.
Brad, Hawkesbury’s leading trainer, has done a tremendous job with Stellar Performer, who has raced four times since joining his stable last year for two wins – both at Newcastle.
She had not raced since finishing fourth over 1600m at Newcastle on October 16 in a Benchmark 64 Handicap, and her trainer got her ready for her first-up essay with only one trial, over 1050m at Randwick on February 7.
“Today’s performance showed that she has come back really well,” Brad said this evening.
“I was looking at stepping her up to 1600m in a similar race at Kembla Grange on March 11, as we did successfully second-up last preparation, but another plan will probably be necessary as her benchmark rating will now increase.”
Brad’s narrow loss with Zalini and later victory with Stellar Performer lifted to just over $12m prizemoney earned by his horses in a career which began only in May, 2017 when he won with his debut runner Junglized at Canberra’s ACTON (synthetic) track.
He has a penchant for racing – and winning – at Newcastle as it has been his most successful track so far; tallying 28 there, one ahead of Kembla Grange.
Brad’s horses have earned just over $3m this season and, with 32 winners in just under the first seven months of the 2021-22 racing year, passing last season’s 36 appears a mere formality with a half century certainly on the cards.
He will be a relieved man if Icebath can finally tag a stakes success in Saturday’s Group 2 Guy Walter Proven Thoroughbreds Stakes (1400m).
The earner of some $3.7m courtesy of narrow Group 1 placings in a Doncaster Mile and Cantala Stakes, along with another slender defeat in a $7.5m Golden Eagle, Icebath is a dominant favorite – and has a new rider.
With Kerrin McEvoy heading to Melbourne to ride at the Blue Diamond Stakes meeting at Caulfield, James McDonald takes over and will declare 1kg overweight at 55kg.
“I’m not concerned about the extra 1kg; I’m pleased to be able to get him,” Brad said.
Even though he couldn’t believe it when Icebath drew the outside barrier in a field of 12 (the fifth time in a row she has drawn poorly), he was heartened by Sydney’s rain this week for his accomplished wet tracker (Randwick was rated a Heavy 9 this afternoon).
“Icebath is in great order, and looks really well placed on Saturday,” he said.
“Hopefully, this will be the day she gets an overdue stakes win.”