New Zealand

Gutsy call pays dividend at Melbourne Cup

One of the gutsiest calls in Melbourne Cup history paid the ultimate dividend for jockey Mark Zahra when Without A Fight took out this year’s race. 

In doing so the former European stayer, who was 13th in the Cup last year, completed the iconic Caulfield and Melbourne Cup double.

Trained for the last year of his career in Victoria by Anthony and Sam Freedman, Without A Fight came from well back on the inside to surge through the pack at the 400 metre mark and cruised home to beat Soulcombe and Sheraz, both trained by ex-pat Kiwi trainer Chris Waller, by two lengths at Flemington on Tuesday evening (NZ time). 

It’s Australia’s most prestigious racing trophy with an $A8 million ($NZ8.6 million) purse.

While the last 200m of the Cup was plain sailing for jockey Zahra the previous two weeks hadn’t been as he agonised over whether to ride Without A Fight or Gold Trip, who he partnered to win the Melbourne Cup last year.

“I spoke to some good judges, including Mark Hunter (form analyst) who I rate a very good judge and he said if I could get him (Without A Fight) to settle he would win,” said Zahra.

Winning back-to-back Melbourne Cups is rare enough – but doing it on different horses is an incredible feat, especially as Gold Trip was heavily backed into second favouritism late and Without A Fight got out to $NZ9, so the bookies and punters were against Zahra’s judgement. 

Without A Fight has become the 12th horse in history to win the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double in the same year.

“The stars aligned for Gold Trip last year and aligned for this horse this year,” Zahra said.

“The way he won the Caulfield Cup, I was confident he would run it out.

“Winning one helps you a lot … you’re so much more confident. If you haven’t won one you might never get the chance. When you win one you think if you stuff it up you still have one to go home to. When you’re on a good horse you can do the same.”

James McDonald won last year as a late pick-up ride on one of his favourite horses, Kiwi mare Verry Elleegant, who wasn’t even in the Cup until a few days before the great race and McDonald was only able to ride after his original booking was withdrawn.

McDonald gave Verry Elleegant the perfect ride and his boyhood dream became reality, holding his head in his hand in shock, relief, and redemption soon after the line one of the iconic racing images of the last decade.

This year McDonald rode defending champion Gold Trip, who he only got on because last year’s winning Cup jockey Zahra thought he had a better chance today riding Without A Fight. That proved to be the case as Without A Fight claimed an impressive win and Gold Trip finishing 17th out of a field of 23.

“It’s been a great race for the family, it’s been a while between drinks and it’s good to get another one,” said trainer Sam Freedman after the 3200 metre race.

“An extraordinary ride, he got him onto the rail from a wide gate, relaxed, switched him off, made a run.” 

The favourite Vauban was given every chance by jockey Ryan Moore, but was under pressure at the top of the straight and never looked the winner after.

“Vauban was a little disappointing alright. He was beaten too far out for my liking,” Irish trainer Willie Mullins told AAP. 

“When I saw him at six furlongs out with Ryan (Moore) having to give him a little niggle I thought that’s too far out for him to be niggling him.

“He just flattened out and ran very disappointing … but that’s the nature of this game.”

The field was reduced to 23 after the Kris Lees-trained Cleveland was scratched by stewards late on Monday.

Results 

NZ dollars

1st: 3. Without A Fight – $9 / $3.30

2nd: 6. Soulcombe – $3.40

3rd: 14. Sheraz – $21

– By Michael Guerin of NZ Herald, additional reporting by AAP and Reuters 

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