Melbourne Cup glory: Mark Zahra times challenge perfectly to ride Gold Trip to victory

Jockey Mark Zahra waited till just the right moment to launch Gold Trip and was rewarded with victory in Australia's biggest race in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington.

Trained by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, Gold Trip was the top weight in the two-mile contest with James Ferguson's British raider Deauville Legend widely expected to play a major role in the Group One.

Kerrin McEvoy settled Deauville Legend in the pack through the early stages, with fellow British runner Without A Fight struggling to find early cover from a wide draw as Smokin' Romans took an early lead.

It was 2020 Derby hero Serpentine, now trained by Robert Hickmott, who grabbed control after a couple of furlongs, lobbing along nicely as he chased a first Australian success.

He dropped away as Knights Order went for home well before the turn, with Deauville Legend seemingly perfectly placed at the top of the straight.

Kerrin McEvoy went for home two furlongs out on the British challenger, but Zahra was just getting into top gear on Gold Trip, sweeping past Deauville Legend with over a furlong to run before staying on strongly to repel the late thrust of another ex-British runner in Emissary.

The winner's stablemate High Emocean grabbed third, just ahead of Deauville Legend with Without A Fight coming home unplaced.

Gold Trip was previously trained in France by Fabrice Chappet, where he was placed multiple times in Group One company and finished fourth in the 2020 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but he had only won once and the five-year-old had yet to triumph in five Australian outings.

For Zahra there was a measure of compensation after he missed out on the winning ride aboard Verry Elleegant in last year's race due to suspension.

Zahra told "This time last year I was watching Verry Elleegant win and getting told off for drinking too much.

"To come a full year and have redemption on a horse like this, with good mates of mine who train the horse and own the horse, my wife's here and it's an unbelievable feeling."

Gold Trip was beaten a just a head in the Caulfield Cup in mid-October and Zahra joked: "I timed it to perfection so he didn't get re-handicapped for today!

"He's the sort of horse that when you go, you have to go, otherwise I reckon he can think about it. I went and I was thinking 'we've still got a bit to go here'.

"I was doubtful he would run 3200 (metres) but Ciaron and David and the team just had him spot on today. It's unbelievable."

Maher and Eustace saddled five runners in the race and Maher said: "Fantastic effort by the whole team. He's quite dicey this horse.

"To have him present in the Cup like that was fantastic.

"It did open up beautifully, we had a plan going out with Mark, he was very good on him in the Caulfield Cup and we just wanted to wait, wait, wait, we know he's got that good turn of foot, he was fantastic.

"It's unbelievable, it's a dream come true, and I'm just thrilled."

Eustace is the son of former Newmarket trainer James and brother of current handler Harry, who saddled his first Royal Ascot winner back in June.

He said: "I can't believe it, obviously (I'm) a bit overcome. It's a dream that we all want to achieve.

"It's the pinnacle of our sport, to do it with Ciaron, I'm obviously so grateful to be training with him. It's a great honour to be doing that with all these good horses and an amazing team of staff we have, it's a full credit to them.

"It's a full credit to them to get five here and to this horse who was so unlucky in the Caulfield Cup. I was so gutted when he got beaten, and I thought he was going to get beaten again, it's just quite incredible."

McEvoy thought the Flemington ground had not helped Deauville Legend's chances on what was also his first try at two miles.

He said: "He's run a good race. The ground has probably just gone against him a little bit. He didn't step great, but I was able to tuck him in towards the inside, got a nice trip around and he travelled really well.

"He might not stay past a mile and six (furlongs) but he ran a good race."

Ferguson added: "He's run a solid race. It would have been a different story if it (the track) wouldn't have been so soft. He was given a beautiful ride but like I said, he just didn't handle the ground."

Ground issues

Without A Fight's rider William Buick also pointed to the ground after his mount came home 13th of the 22 runners.

He said: "He didn't get through that ground. He's a fast ground horse."

Ed Crisford, who co-trains Without A Fight in partnership with his father Simon, shared a similar view.

"He jumped well and got into a good position. William (Buick) just said he hated the ground, it is soft out there, it is softer than we expected it to be," he said.

"He had a good trip, he just stopped quickly in that ground. He does need quick ground, his best form is in quick ground, he ran a good race, but he just stopped quickly."

This year's Derby second Hoo Ya Mal represented Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott in the race after changing hands for £1.2million in June, but he could finish only 12th on his debut for new connections.

Jockey Craig Williams said: "He was just too brilliant, he tried to get it over and done with too fast.

"He was far too aggressive but for a horse that pulled and charged that hard throughout the race, he did an amazing job to enter the straight on the bridle like he did."

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