CONTROVERSY swirled around Albury Racecourse yesterday after one of the closest finishes in Albury Gold Cup history exploded in protest drama.
Premier Albury trainer Brett Cavanough was gifted one of the biggest thrills of his decorated career after stewards sensationally handed him the Riverina’s richest race.
Longshot Fabriano crossed the line first to temporarily give Benalla trainer Peter Donnelly and jockey Jye McNeil their biggest race success.
But in a dramatic post-race twist, jockey Jeff Penza aboard third placegetter Coliseo lodged protests against Fabriano and the Cavanough-trained runner-up, Niblick.
Coliseo — who looked a certainty beaten — suffered interference when attempting to drive through a gap between Fabriano and Niblick approaching the 200-metre mark.
The Norm Gardner-trained gelding was stopped in his tracks and was forced to switch off the heels of Niblick before surging again late.
Only a nose separated Fabriano ($26) from Niblick ($8) with Coliseo ($4.60-fav) a nose further back in third.
After a 35-minute delay, stewards deemed Fabriano had shifted out causing the interference but ruled Niblick played no role in Coliseo’s misfortune.
The decision delivered Cavanough his first home-town feature from four previous attempts.
“It’s not the ideal way you want to win,” Cavanough said.
“In reality if Coliseo gets the run he beats us and we run second.
“But that’s racing — if it had gotten taken off me I would have copped that, too. I feel for Peter Donnelly and Jye McNeil and they are great competitors.”
Niblick had an unconventional preparation for yesterday’s $170,000 feature.
In two starts for the stable, Niblick defeated a strong field first-up in the $101,500 Listed National Sprint at Canberra over 1400 metres before stepping-up to the 2000 metres second-up yesterday.
A jubilant Cavanough rated the victory as one of his finest training performances.
“It is satisfying to get this horse to win two straight,” he said.
“And to win an Albury cup is a dream come true.
“I believe in this horse and he is going super.
“I learnt a few tricks while I was over in England with Peter Moody and Black Caviar and this is just one of them.”
Stablemate Price Of Glory also showed he had a bright staying future after finishing fourth.
Cavanough capped a memorable day with a treble after slick speedster Bossdon City took out the $50,000 Flat Knacker by a head and stablemate Ceccanti saluted earlier in the day.
Leading jockey Matthew Cahill was aboard all three Cavanough winners.
“I don’t believe in God but I believe in Matthew Cahill,” Cavanough said.
Cahill is presently riding under a stay of proceedings against the severity of a 12-month disqualification.
The talented hoop is the most successful jockey of the modern era with three previous wins in the Albury feature.
“I feel sorry for Jye McNeil because he is a promising young jockey,” Cahill said.
“It would be devastating to lose an Albury cup like that when you are so young.
“But he will have plenty more chances and I might not get that many more, so I’ll take it while I can.
“My disqualification has been a long and drawn-out affair.
“I’m just doing the best I can and will keep punching on.”
Cavanough said Niblick would now target the $300,000 A.H. Hollindale Stakes (1800m) on the Gold Coast next start.