Mark Zahra (l) rides Without A Fight to victory in the Caulfield Cup.
Mark Zahra (left) raises his hand to celebrate his victory on Without A Fight in the Caulfield Cup. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • horse racing, harness racing

Zahra punt pays off, Without A Fight wins Caulfield Cup

Shayne Hope October 21, 2023

Mark Zahra’s gut-wrenching decision to partner Without A Fight instead of pre-race favourite Gold Trip has paid huge dividends with victory in a thrilling finish to the $5 million Caulfield Cup.

Zahra timed his run perfectly as Without A Fight came from worse than midfield to edge out West Wind Blows in the straight and claim the world’s richest 2400m handicap on Saturday.

Gold Trip was third under Ben Melham after Zahra opted against boarding the top-weight, who he had steered to a brilliant win in the Turnbull Stakes a fortnight ago.

Zahra had also led Gold Trip to second in last year’s Caulfield Cup and famously won the Melbourne Cup aboard the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained stayer last November.

But the top jockey chose the security of a ride on Without A Fight for Anthony and Sam Freedman amid indecision from Gold Trip’s connections around their horse’s next run following the Turnbull.

After an emotional few days – and an epic Caulfield Cup finish – Zahra pumped a fist as he crossed the line.

“It is good when you have the results at the end but you have to choose (the horse) beforehand,” Zahra said.

“What a moment. I’m so happy.

“I don’t really celebrate much, but with the week I’ve had and the things that have gone on, I had to kick myself in the ribs – my wife probably did it for me midway through the week and said, ‘Let’s just focus on the ride we’ve got and it’s a good chance’.

“I had a beautiful run and he did the rest.”

Without A Fight's jockey Mark Zahra embraces the Caulfield Cup.
 Without A Fight’s jockey Mark Zahra embraces the Caulfield Cup. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Without A Fight failed an initial assessment by vets on Thursday but was re-examined on Friday afternoon and passed fit to run.

Zahra said he had not slept on Wednesday night after Gold Trip was a last-minute confirmation for the Caulfield Cup.

“It was like someone stealing your missus, someone else getting the ride on Gold Trip, and I was just a bit shattered,” he said.

“I thought, ‘F***, he’s my horse’, I won the Melbourne Cup on him and I have a great bond with him – a bit of an emotional bond I don’t have with any other horse.

“I said it was time to stop worrying about Gold Trip and time to focus on Without A Fight.

“Then the vet stuff came up but I was always confident that he would pass because Sam and Anthony said (he would) and he’s just a lazy trotter.

“I got the spot I wanted and he was too strong.”

It was Zahra’s second Caulfield Cup win, but his first in front of a crowd after he saluted aboard superstar mare Verry Elleegant under COVID-19 restrictions in 2020.

It was also Zahra’s 27th Group 1 triumph and the biggest success for father-and-son trainers Anthony and Sam Freedman.

“It’s a special day,” Sam Freedman said.

“The horse is brilliant on top of the ground. All the staff at home have done a brilliant job.

“He’s just a good horse.”

Zahra will reunite with Gold Trip for their Melbourne Cup defence next month and a possible start in next Saturday’s Cox Plate.