SUNDAY: October 23, 2022: THERE was light at the end of the tunnel!

After Hawkesbury’s leading trainer Brad Widdup was understandably left downcast when his star mare Icebath fluffed the start and cost herself any chance of back to back wins in the $2m The Invitation at Royal Randwick yesterday, Phearson lifted him off the canvas by clinching back to back victories of his own at Kembla Grange.

“It is what it is,” Brad said this morning, still in some disbelief that Icebath ($5 co-favorite) finished ninth in the feature fillies and mares’ race which she won so well last year.

“She has been a bit tardy on occasions before, but nothing like yesterday.

“Her race was virtually over when she missed the start and when they didn’t run along in the middle stages, that made it impossible to sustain any real challenge in the straight.

“In the circumstances, Icebath did really well to be beaten just over three lengths.”

Whilst she couldn’t successfully defend her The Invitation crown, Brad is still looking to take her to Melbourne this week for a 1600m feature at the Flemington carnival.

He has already booked winning The Everest jockey Craig Williams, who also won yesterday’s Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) at The Valley on Bella Nipotina, for Icebath if she lines up in next Saturday’s $1m Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) against her own sex.

“Icebath ate up overnight and trotted up freely this morning, so she seems fine,” Brad said.

“I’m having our vet check her over today, but at this stage she will be going to Melbourne.

“If she doesn’t go to the Empire Rose, there is the $3m Champions Mile at Flemington a week later.”

Both races will be run at weight-for-age, and Icebath was narrowly beaten by Superstorm in last year’s Champions Mile (when known as the Cantala Stakes) after winning The Invitation.

“She will go for a break after whichever races she contests at Flemington,” Brad added.

Disappointed as he was with Icebath’s defeat yesterday, he was delighted with the progress Phearson is making and considers he is worthy of being aimed toward the Provincial Championships series next autumn.

Brad already has last Wednesday’s Warwick Farm winner The Poacher heading for the annual series.

Despite racing keenly in the early and middle stages, Phearson ($4.60) was too good for placegetters Prince Aurelius ($5.50) and Irish Kisses ($3.50 favorite) in the Benchmark 64 Handicap (1400m), and gave them both some weight.

The lightly-raced five-year-old has started only six times for two wins and four placings.

Phearson joined Brad’s team this year and has raced three times for him for a first-up second at Hawkesbury and now victories at Hawkesbury and Kembla Grange.

“He did a good job going from a Maiden to a Benchmark 64, especially as there was plenty of depth in the race,” Brad said.

“Prince Aurelius won a heat of the Provincial Championships at Gosford last year, and Irish Kisses was placed in town last month.

“Even though Phearson has had only the six starts and three for me, I have recommended to his owners that we give him a break now and look toward the Provincial Championships.

“There is definitely further improvement in him.”