TRAINER Craig Widdison has landed his biggest race win since basing himself at Wodonga less than 18 months ago when up and coming galloper Willi Willi clinched the $180,000 Albury Gold Cup (2000m) on Friday.
Widdison prepared two group two race winners before moving back to the Border area in late 2016 with a small team of horses before his stable number swelled with the long-term suspension to leading Wodonga trainer Brian Cox.
Willi Willi is raced by long-time Cox clients John and Helen McPhee, who have won the Gold Cup twice with Ekalaka in 2000 and 2002.
The Gold Cup was Willi Willi’s grand final this preparation with no plans to press onto the Wagga Gold Cup in early May.
“If I had him right I thought he could do that,” Widdison said.
“He has got a big future and is only lightly raced.
“He has won leading, coming from last and just off the speed.
“Today was probably his most professional effort.”
Widdison completed a cup day treble with $19 long shot Zephora and $10 City Handicap winner Cash Crisis.
Willi Willi also started at juicy odds of $7.50 with the three more fancied visitors Supply And Demand ($8), Wheal Leisure ($3.40 fav) and Sin To Win ($4) filling the next three placings before Widdison’s second cup contender, Mr Fergus, finished fifth.
The four-year-old stalked the leading brigade for much of the run before storming to the front at the top of the straight and holding onto win by three and half lengths.
Jockey Nikita Beriman was aboard Willi Willi in his first ride in the Gold Cup.
She completed a hat-trick of feature race wins with earlier success on Young Hostess in the Adrian Ledger Memorial and Cash Crisis in the City Handicap.
Widdison described Beriman as “a star”, but also acknowledged the effort of Willi Willi’s regular trackworker rider Nic Souquet, who was unable to ride at 54kg.
Widdison said the Gold Cup had always been Willi Willi’s aim this preparation even though the gelding had never previously raced the NSW way of racing.
But he did gallop twice on the track before the cup.
Willi Willi emerged as a genuine Gold Cup contender when he won at Flemington three starts ago over 1800m.
But Widdison admitted his most recent run at Flemington when beaten by more than six lengths did rattle his confidence.
“His last run was a little bit of character, but we always had this race in mind,” he said.
“I just thought sitting outside the leader might not suit him.
“He did feel the track a bit so there were some excuses.
“I’ve got a terrific team of staff who are just unbelievable and were already going.
“It’s just awesome and a really special moment.
“You’ve got to appreciate these days because they don’t happen too often.”
Willi Willi presented connections with $100,000 in prizemoney for the Gold Cup which takes his earnings career earnings plus bonuses to nearly $450,000.
The Gold Cup had one pre-race scratching with Corowa Cup winner Nagging coming out on race morning.