A few strides after they were all involved in significant bumping, four three-year-olds cross the Ellerslie finish line together – (from inside) Pris De Fer, Rippa Eagle, In A Twinkling and Tolemac.
A chain reaction in the last 50 metres of today’s Monstavision 1600 at Ellerslie prompted three protests, leading to the relegation of the winner Prise De Fer.
Sent out favourite following a dominant last-start win at Ruakaka, Prise De Fer burst through a gap in the straight and seemed to be on course for another impressive victory in the $25,000 three-year-old race.
But then his lack of experience set in. Just as Rippa Eagle, In A Twinkling and Tolemac drew up alongside him, Prise De Fer veered to the left – possibly shying at the big screen.
He made heavy contact with Rippa Eagle, who was forced out on to In A Twinkling and Tolemac. Prise De Fer eventually held on to win by a short head, with the same margin to Tolemac in third. In A Twinkling was a nose away in fourth.
There was an audible gasp from the stands as the head-on replay was shown on the big screen, and the siren immediately sounded. The second, third and fourth placegetters all protested against the winner.
In a crowded judicial room, the trainer and jockey of each party spoke in turn – first Tony Pike and Michael McNab (Rippa Eagle), then stable representative Brian Jenkins and Jake Bayliss (Tolemac), then Jamie Richards and Michael Coleman (In A Twinkling). Richards had the unusual role of also commenting in defence of the winner Prise De Fer, backed up by rider Opie Bosson.
“There was a very short margin at the finish, and it was clear that there was very heavy contact in the last 50 metres,” Pike said. “Rippa Eagle was interfered with by the winner, then was pushed out into the third horse, so was effectively interfered with twice. I believe he would have won the race if the interference hadn’t occurred.”
McNab was of the same opinion. “I was just at his head to go past, and if the interference hadn’t occurred I would have gone straight past him,” he said.
Jenkins, speaking on behalf of his brother Paul, commented that “Opie Bosson had the opportunity to switch his whip to the other hand and keep his horse straight, but made no effort to do so. It cost us first or second place.”
Bayliss believed his mount had his head in front at one stage, but “he copped a shoulder and it completely put him off stride, knocking him back to third.”
Richards said In A Twinkling was just warming up through his gears when the incident occurred. Then, in defence of Prise De Fer, Richards pointed to the promising three-year-old’s inexperience.
“He’d had only two starts before and it was his first look at Ellerslie,” he said. “He had a good look around and ran away from the big screen at the 50-metre mark. Opie did his best to keep him balanced, and he never hit him behind the saddle. I’m not sure if the other horses would have got past him if it hadn’t been for the interference.”
Bosson disputed McNab’s earlier comment.
“Mr McNab said he reckons he would have run straight past him if it hadn’t been for the interference, but I think he was holding them,” he said. “He actually came from behind Rippa Eagle and went past him in the straight.”
Matthew Williamson provided the stipendiary stewards’ summary.
“Between the 150 and 125-metre mark, Rippa Eagle is half a length behind Prise De Fer,” he said. “Tolemac and In A Twinkling are about another length behind them.
“All three of those horses have made up significant margins on Prise De Fer by the 50-metre mark, when the interference occurs. There is direct interference to Rippa Eagle, then indirect interference to Tolemac and In A Twinkling. Based on that, we believe there is merit in all three protests.”
After a few more minutes reviewing the footage the RIU panel, chaired by Adrian Dooley, upheld Rippa Eagle’s protest but dismissed the other two. Rippa Eagle was promoted to first, with Prise De Fer second, Tolemac third and In A Twinkling fourth.
By Rip Van Winkle out of an O’Reilly mare, Rippa Eagle has now had five starts for two wins, a placing and $23,500 in prize-money.
All of the four protagonists in today’s blanket finish and inquiry are nominated for the Vodafone New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie on March 2.