CONNECTIONS of the Charleville-trained Eschiele lost the historic Birdsville Cup twice in the same afternoon on September 7.
Eschiele, trained by Leslie Baker and ridden for him by the Brisbane-based Les (Bubba) Tilley, was momentarily in fron and even hailed a winning chance by caller Josh Fleming front as the field charged down the long Birdsville straight.
Victory would have been a bonanza for punters, who backed the gelding into $4.20 favouritism for the $40,000, 1600m Cup.
It was not to be as outsider French Hussler ($19) outgunned Eschiele in the dash to the line, prevailing by a neck in a deceptive finish. Java (Matthew Palmer, $12), the visitor from Gary Clarke's stable in Darwin was third, finishing another length away in 1minute 35.65seconds.
But Eschiele's cause was far from lost - at least that's what they thought.
When horses returned to scale so jockeys could weigh out in the aftermath of the race, Eschiele's connections lodged an objection, claiming interference by French Hussler over the concluding stages had cost their horse an opportunity to win.
Stewards considered submissions from various parties before dismissing the protest and confirming the placings as semaphored by the judge.
The decision saved some big payouts on the runner-up and proved to be a bonus for bookmakers and the TAB considering French Hussler was largely ingored in pre-race betting.
The nine-year-old opened at $14 before firming slightly to $13 and then drifting to his starting price.
The win, French Hussler's 13th in 75 starts, was as much a victory for the gelding's tenacity and a never-say-die ride by Clayton Gallagher as it was for the genius of trainer Todd Austin.
French Hussler had not won since April and only joined Austin's team at Barcaldine at the end of July after a transfer from John Wigginton's Rockhampton stable.
Austin started French Hussler at Tambo on August 4, finishing second. Six days later they travelled to Muttaburra and finished down the track. Austin then gave French Hussler his final lead-up to the Cup at Betoota on August 31 when the old stager ran fifth.
French Hussler was not the best to begin in the Cup but Gallagher had him running early and they settled off the speed. When heads swung for home, Gallagher sooled French Hussler forward as he chased down early leader Java.
French Hussler hit the front with about 100m to go and Eschiele mounted his challenge while Fab's Cowboy (Minonette Kennedy, $10), which had settled near the tail of the field, launched his own assault out wide on the course.
With Gallagher riding hard, French Hussler stuck to his guns to cross the line in front.
It sealed a third victory for Austin at the carnival after stablemates Wicked Express and Fully Maxed were successful on the opening day of the two-year carnival.
French Hussler was the second leg of a winning double for Gallagher, who teamed with the Rodney Robb-trained Kaluapapa, which made the trip from Nyngan, for a nice win in the Innamincka Hotel Handicap (1000m).
Charters Towers trainer Ben Williams produced a winning double through Boyer in the Lyndhurst Stud Plate (1000m) and Wicked Dancer in the Akubra QTIS (1200m), respectively. Both were ridden by Danny Edmonds.
The Miles-based trainer Bevan (Billy) Johnson and rider Dakota Graham were in the money, too, with a race-to-race double courteous of Money Ad in the Brook Pastoral/Fred Brophy Handicap (1400m) and Rosover in the Birdsville Fuel Service Handicap (1600m).
Before Java gave the Clarke stable the minor end of the Cup prizemoney, stablemate Marble Duke winning the Landmark CGU Handicap (1000m).