Life can deal some uncomfortable moments, and little-known Australian trainer Wendy Kelly experienced that for about 20 minutes at Caulfield Sept. 22.
At the end of the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (gr. I) over seven furlongs she was leading wild scenes of jubilation as the horse she trains, Bon Hoffa, had rocked home from mid-field to win her, and his, first-ever group 1 race. The $350,000 race proved a stunning result for all at the track because Bon Hoffa, winning his third race on the trot and remaining unbeaten this campaign, was the raging hot popular elect.
But then the siren sounded, and Kelly and rider Vlad Duric were called before the stewards. Brad Rawiller, rider of fast-closing runner-up Niconero, had lodged an objection.
He was beaten three-quarters of a length and while the protest was an annoyance, no one thought he'd get the race. Then the race replay was played. It showed Bon Hoffa had impeded Niconero just past the six-furlong mark, and right at the time he was making his charge. Niconero was held up and an audible “awww” swept the course as the replay was shown.
But 15 minutes later, Kelly and connections rejoiced again as the stewards allowed the result to stand. Punters cheered wildly, too.
At the end of the hearing, chief steward Des Gleeson conceded interference did happen but said it was not severe enough to reverse the placings. “Whilst interference did occur, given the three-quarters-of-a-length winning margin, we took the view that it did not affect the result of the race,” Gleeson said.
In Australia stewards must be absolutely convinced interference cost the protesting horse the race. Contact is not enough to uphold an objection.
Kelly, who trains a small team at Cranbourne in the Victorian country area, described the victory – her first at racing’s elite level – as her biggest thrill. “He’s just a sensational horse,” she said after leading Bon Hoffa (Belong To Me-Asian Reef) back to scale. Third home was former group I winner Wonderful World who, at 3, was returning to form after a series of below-par efforts.
Kelly, who only started training horses about 10 years ago and is assisted by her former greyhound trainer-husband, had never even had a group I runner before. "I was up all night with nerves, it was just so stressful," she said.
Jockey Duric, not a recognized big race jock, was just as elated, as it was his debut group I win also. He has been a battling jockey for 15 years, rarely getting mounts in black type races. “I’ve come close a few times, but this is awesome,” he said. “I just hope this puts my name up into lights a bit more.”
Bon Hoffa, a 5-year-old, kept his winning strike-rate at better than 50%. He has now won $504,000 in purse money from his eight wins. He has raced 14 times and is one of the biggest horses in training, at over 17 hands high.