Former Albury schoolboy Brad Widdup has taken the reins at one of Sydney’s top training stables but his fondest memories are of Group One ‘superstar’ Intergaze while he was a stable foreman for Rod Craig in the 1990s.
Brad Widdup admits he wasn’t that horsey as a kid. His dad, Albury trainer Pat Widdup, had stables at the back of the family home in Newmarket Street while Brad and his two brothers were growing up.
Sure, the three boys were dragged off to the races most Saturdays – “wherever Dad had runners is where we all went” – but the racing bug didn’t bite immediately. That was then. Now the former Xavier High School student has stepped up to the ranks of head trainer for one of Australia’s most prestigious racing outfit. With a newly acquired trainer’s licence, Widdup has taken over the reins at state-of-the-art Hawkesbury facility Platinum Park, owned by Jadesyke Racing’s Damion Flower. To be fair, the years in between have been all horses for Widdup, who has worked for some of the country’s top trainers.
In announcing his appointment, a Racing NSW report stated: “You’d be hard-pressed finding a better credentialed understudy than Widdup … with his fingerprints all over Australian racing from training operations to legendary horses.”
Widdup chuckles as he recalls his unlikely ascension to racing’s hallowed ranks.
“To be honest when I hit high school I was a bit immature,” he says.
“I started Year 12 but it wasn’t going anywhere; I tried a few apprenticeships but they didn’t pan out.
“Horses were always in the background – the bug got me when I was 17.”
And while the brothers rode ponies as kids (older brother Warren was a pretty handy jockey), Widdup says he was “always too big to ride trackwork”.
It was a chance trip to Sydney with his brother, who was booked to ride a few horses for prolific Albury trainer Ron Stubbs, that was to seal the young Widdup’s fate.
“I was meant to be going up for a couple of weeks but I never came home,” he says.
What followed was an impressive 25-year apprenticeship in an industry that is as gruelling as it is glamorous.
Widdup’s early days as a strapper at Warwick Farm “were a tough learning experience”.
One of his first jobs was for Brian (BJ) Smith, where he looked after and travelled with 1995 AJC Oaks winner Circles of Gold.
At just 21 years of age, Widdup was offered the foreman’s role for Rod Craig who had four horses at the time, including one by the name of Intergaze.
The eight-time Group One winner during the 1990s still holds a very special place in Widdup’s heart.
“Intergaze was a superstar – I mean he won $3.5 million 20 years ago,” he says.
“I don’t think anyone realises just how good he was.”
Intergaze beat Octagonal at the champ’s final start in the 1997 Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Widdup then headed to Brisbane to work for respected trainer Billy Mitchell for four years alongside Liam Birchley.
At 27, he’d just bought his first house and was set to marry his sweetheart Milissa 10 months later when a phone call was to force a U-turn back to Sydney.
Dad doesn’t leave Albury too much … he’ll probably come up and tell me everything I’m doing wrong.
“Billy rang to tell me he was shutting the stables and re-locating to Melbourne,” Widdup recalls.
“I moved back to Sydney to work for Graeme Rogerson for 10 months (who won the 2003 Golden Slipper with Polar Success) and then Kevin Moses for 4½ years.”
But it was the decade spent as assistant trainer to Peter Snowden (and then John O’Shea) at Crown Lodge that was to cement Widdup’s reputation in the industry as a loyal and reliable workhorse.
Crown Lodge is considered the Australian jewel in the crown of Sheikh Mohammed’s global racing and breeding operation Godolphin.
Widdup says he has been privileged to learn his trade from some of the biggest and best.
But the best grounding came from his father Pat.
“Over the years it was Dad who showed me the tried and true basics of horsemanship that have carried me through,” Widdup says.
“He instilled hard work into us and there’s not many better than Dad when it comes to looking after a horse.”
In modern racing, horses are treated like finely tuned athletes.
“It’s a sports structure where elements like diet, physiotherapy and recovery are examined and managed,” Widdup says.
“I keep it simple (there are plenty of gimmicks) – you need to keep the horses happy and fit.”
When it comes to spotting the next star in the making, Widdup reckons a good athlete always stands out.
And while breeding plays its part – it is, after all, a business where people pay top dollar for top pedigrees – he says you can’t go too wrong with a horse that has correct conformation, a good body and a “smart head”.
“But you can get disappointed pretty quickly – there’s plenty of world champions on the training track,” he laughs.
Widdup’s training instincts are already proving promising with his first runner, Junglized, winning at Canberra on May 26.
It’s a family affair with brother-in-law Christian Reith aboard the winner and on-the-ground support from wife Milissa and their children Cooper, 12, Maddison, 11, and Hunter, 8.
Widdup – who’s at work by 4am and home sometime after 5.30pm – admits it’s a “demanding” lifestyle.
He doesn’t get back home too often while Pat, 76, and mum Shirley have yet to pay a visit to their son’s posh Sydney set-up.
“Dad doesn’t leave Albury too much … he’ll probably come up and tell me everything I’m doing wrong,” Widdup laughs.