The $3.5m Longines Golden Slipper Stakes wasn’t even in Brad Widdup’s thoughts when he began his training career in the first week of April last year. Not quite 12 months later, the Hawkesbury trainer has a runner in the world’s richest two-year-old race at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.
It’s a tremendous achievement for this experienced and skilled horseman, who saddles underrated colt Sandbar in the Group 1 feature. And there’s extra special satisfaction for Widdup on a couple of fronts.
Brother-in-law Christian Reith rides the youngster, and Sandbar’s managing part-owner is Jadeskye Racing’s Damion Flower, who bought the colt and also was responsible for him taking out his licence and training for him at his superb Platinum Park property at Hawkesbury.
“When Damion first approached me to take up training, I gave it a lot of thought and quickly learned just how successful he has been with his racing ventures,” Widdup said this afternoon.
“He is very professional and works hard at it. His success is no fluke. He’s a really good judge of yearlings. Plus I was lucky being given the opportunity to start training at such a wonderful facility as Platinum Park is.”
As with Flower, it seems the harder Widdup works, the luckier he gets. A son of Albury trainer Pat Widdup, he put together an impressive CV working for prominent trainers in Sydney and Brisbane before spending 10 years as assistant trainer, based at Warwick Farm, to Peter Snowden and then John O’Shea at global giant Godolphin’s massive Australian operation.
Widdup began his new venture at Hawkesbury with eight horses last April – and success was instant. He won with his first starter, Junglized, at Canberra’s ACTON (synthetic) track on May 26.
A further 42 have followed in the ensuing period; including Sweet Bouquet at Bathurst today and winners on all four Sydney tracks, including a Royal Randwick breakthrough with Witches (now also qualified for the $500,000 Polytrack Provincial Championships Final there on April 14) on New Year’s Day.
Widdup began the new season with only 10 brand new two-year-olds in his stable, and Sandbar gave him his first stakes success when successful in the Listed Lonhro Plate at Warwick Farm on February 10, after making a winning debut at the Canterbury night fixture on January 18. A son of now outstanding sire and former class racehorse Snitzel (the 2006 Oakleigh Plate winner), who Flower purchased at the 2004 Magic Millions yearling sales, Sandbar also was an MM buy for him last year at $650,000.
He syndicated him, with high-profile owners John Singleton (Strawberry Hill Stud), Brad Hunt (B K Racing & Breeding), Neil Werrett (Werrett Bloodstock) and Nick Vass (Nick Vass Bloodstock) joining him to race the colt. Hunt actually built Platinum Park and sold it to Flower.
Naturally, Widdup set his sights on getting Sandbar to this year’s $2m Magic Millions 2YO Classic (1200m) at the Gold Coast; in which Snitzel finished third in 2005.
“Unfortunately, he had a little mishap, slipping over near the swimming pool at Platinum Park,” Widdup explained. “It wasn’t serious, but it put us back a bit and we couldn’t get him ready for the Magic Millions. Whilst it was disappointing, I wasn’t perturbed as we still had Witherspoon, who earned black type in Brisbane and made it to the Millions.”
Sandbar has won two of his four starts and, after stretching unbeaten Melbourne youngster Written By (the Blue Diamond Stakes winner) when a close second in last Saturday’s Pago Pago Stakes, was the last horse this morning to make it into the Slipper field of 16.
Widdup attended Tuesday’s barrier draw, but took a backseat as former jockey Ben Vassallo (racing manager for B K Racing & Breeding) stepped up and drew barrier 3, alongside Written By (4).
“I was rapt,” he said. “You need every bit of luck you can get to win a Slipper. “A soft draw definitely helps us. Sandbar is a laidback colt who likes to roll along. He has worked well on wet ground if the forecast rain comes, and deserves his place in the field. We’re not going there on Saturday to make up the numbers.”