Without A Fight produced a storming run down the home stretch to claim a memorable victory in the Caulfield Cup on Saturday.
Jockey Mark Zahra delivered a power-packed display aboard the six-year-old to overhaul West Wind Blows in the final furlong, with Gold Trip back in third.
Zahra’s efforts failed to impress the stewards, who slapped him with a seven-meeting suspension and a $50,000 fine for excessive use of the whip.
The victory crowned a frantic week for Zahra, with the jockey unsure whether to ride Without A Fight or Gold Trip in the run-up to the race.
After plumping for the former, the jockey faced some anxious moments when Without A Fight was deemed to be lame in a pre-race veterinary inspection on Thursday.
The horse was subsequently cleared to start the following day, and duly vindicated Zahra’s decision to take the ride rather than retain his partnership with Gold Trip.
“I didn’t sleep Wednesday night just thinking about – it was like someone stealing your missus someone else getting the ride on Gold Trip, and I was just a bit shattered,” Zahra told Channel 7.
“I thought, 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, Gold Trip.
“On Thursday I thought, what are you doing? You picked this horse and I said to Sam Freedman (joint-trainer) after the last start that he’ll win the Caulfield Cup.
“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 (Freedman – joint-trainer) said he’s just a lazy trotter.
“By Friday I was finally right. I went through the form with Mark Hunter (tipster), and we sorted it out. I got the spot I wanted, and he was too strong.”
Melham Confident Gold Trip Will Reverse the Form
The race provided some useful betting pointers for the Melbourne Cup, with the first and third likely to go head-to-head again at Flemington Racecourse on November 7.
Several of the best Australian betting sites were suitably impressed with Without A Fight’s performance, cutting the horse to odds of 7.00 to follow up in ‘the race that stops the nation’.
However, it is worth noting that Gold Trip had Without A Fight a long way behind him when winning last year’s Melbourne Cup, and connections will fancy their chances of repeating the feat this time around.
Ben Melham was aboard Gold Trip in the Caulfield Cup and is eager to retain the ride, although he could miss out if Zahra decides to switch back. The extra distance should suit the Gold Trip, and odds of 7.00 make him an interesting proposition to go back-to-back in the race.
Melham admitted it was ‘frustrating’ that Gold Trip was denied a clear run at a crucial stage in the Caulfield Cup and backed the horse to reverse the form next month.
“The pace they went made him carry his weight, giving four or five kilos to quality horses which was probably the telling factor at the finish,” Melham said. “I know who I would be liking to ride in the race.”
“He’s a healthy happy horse. He’s thriving, in the right yard and won’t be going backwards off the back of that.”
Crisford Delighted With West Wind Blows
While Without A Fight and Gold Trip are set to renewal rivalries in the Melbourne Cup, West Wind Blows is unlikely to take up the engagement after splitting the pair at Caufield Racecourse.
The final result was frustrating for the Simon and Ed Crisford stable, who previously trained Without A Fight before he was transferred to the Freedman yard.
West Wind Blows will likely skip the Melbourne Cup in favour of the Group 1 Champions Stakes at Flemington on November 11, before heading to Asia or the Middle East for other targets.
While Ed Crisford tried to focus on the positives after the race, he struggled to hide his disappointment at missing out on the prestigious prize.
“Without A Fight’s a very good horse and just came on the last and beat us,” Crisford said. “They are two very good horses. We’re delighted with the run and couldn’t be happier really, bar winning.
“He jumped very slow – originally I was a bit worried how he jumped but they were going quite quick into the first bend and it was a good pace so I thought we were quite happy. Jamie (Spencer) rode a fantastic race – he just angled out and came into it up the straight. I thought ‘right we could win this’.
“I knew Without A Fight’s a battler and I know what he’s got under his bonnet so it’s just nice to see them both do so well – it was fantastic.”