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Without A Fight wins 2023 Melbourne Cup as jockey Mark Zahra goes back-to-back

Trained by a storied racing family and ridden by a champion jockey at the peak of his craft, Without A Fight blitzed the Melbourne Cup field to win Australia’s great race with rare ease. The Anthony and Sam Freedman-trained stayer became just the 12th horse to complete the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double with a dashing performance at Flemington on Tuesday.

So great was the advantage Without A Fight established in the latter stages of the $8.4m race, jockey Mark Zahra had the time to look left and then right for any dangers. There were none. At the finale of a 3200-metre staying test run at a frantic pace, with the frontrunners swamped late by rivals sitting back in the field, there was daylight to the runner-up.

Soulcombe, part-owned by a string of Richmond premiership players, ran brilliantly for second while the third-placed Sheraz ran a bottler for a bolter.

Melbourne Cup: most Australians have little or no interest in ‘race that stops the nation’, Essential poll findsRead more

In October Zahra was fined $50,000 and suspended for seven days after breaching whip rules when winning the Caulfield Cup on the sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum-owned galloper. But there was no need for any hard riding on Tuesday, with the 41-year-old deftly handling a horse his strapper described as “a little bit weird, and that is being an understatement”.

Quick Guide

Greg Wood’s Thursday’s tips

Show

Newbury 12.05 Brookie 12.40 Willmount 1.15 Come On Gruff 1.50 Bella Civena 2.25 Equinus (nb) 3.00 Belargus  3.35 The Dark Edge 4.10 I’m A Lumberjack

Ludlow 12.15 Fenney Brook 12.50 Balboa 1.25 Jubilee Express 2.00 Florencethemachine 2.35 Lonimoss Bareliere 3.10 Choccabloc 3.45 Concetto 4.20 Giddyupadingdong

Sedgefield12.25 El Jefe 1.00 Langton Wold  1.35 Dragonfruit 2.10 Tom Creen 2.45 Supremely West 3.20 Fils De Roi 3.55 Le Fou’s Keep 

Chelmsford City5.00 Pitney  5.30 Invincible Speed 6.00 She’sashambles 6.30 Nouveaux 7.00 Croeso Cymraeg 7.30 Greatgadian (nap) 8.00 Lupset Flossy Pop  8.30 Almaty Star

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With his second Melbourne Cup in succession in his keeping, Zahra rose from his saddle and raised his fist in triumph before waving two fingers towards the crowd. Zahra is the first jockey since Glen Boss on Makybe Diva to win consecutive Melbourne Cups, with Without A Fight breaking a Cups double drought dating back to Ethereal in 2001.

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Last year Zahra steered Gold Trip to victory in the Melbourne Cup for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, as Without A Fight struggled on soft ground to finish 13th. He agonised over staying with Gold Trip before opting for Without A Fight, a horse he believed could become a champion after riding him with success in Brisbane during winter.

“The stars aligned for Gold Trip last year and aligned for this horse this year,” Zahra said. “Just a few things and the way he won the Caulfield Cup, I was confident he would run it.

Quick Guide

Greg Wood’s Wednesday racing tips

Show

Musselburgh: 12.35 Call Me Harry 1.05 Ragosina 1.40 Quaresome 2.15 Budarri 2.50 Marajman 3.25 Cedar Hill 4.00 Cuban Cigar 

Warwick: 12.45 Reine Fee 1.15 Fortune Forever 1.50 Howaya Now 2.25 Jet Plane 3.00 Giulietta 3.35 Horizon D’Or 4.10 Baby Shally

Chepstow: 12.55 Eceparti 1.30 Colonel Harry 2.05 Flying Forune 2.40 Captain Wallace 3.15 Lady Wilberry 3.50 Champagne Rhythm 4.25 Rocking Man 

Kempton Park: 4.30 Sant Alessio 5.00 Albert Lasker 5.30 Royal Dream 6.00 Blown Away 6.30 All Agleam 7.00 Prop Forward (nap) 7.30 Divine Comedy (nb) 8.00 Geelong 8.30 Rhubarb 

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“You come into a race like today and, putting aside all of the choosing, a lot of jockeys try their lifetimes to win one and you can come in thinking this might be my chance.

“But when you have won one, you think, ‘if I stuff it up, there is one at home in the cabinet anyway,’ so it affords you that little bit of luxury. So to change horses and get a little bit of flak about my choice – they were giving it to me here down the race today – and for it to pay off, it is justified.”

Sam Freedman was on the phone to his uncle Lee Freedman in Queensland moments after Without A Fight clinched victory by 2.25 lengths.

Mark Zahra on Without A Fight puts two fingers up in celebration as he crosses the lineMark Zahra on Without A Fight signals his back-to-back wins in the Melbourne Cup. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

But he paid tribute to his father, Anthony, who along with his brothers was part of a dominant force in Australian racing in the 1990s and 2000s, for helping the gelding blossom.

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“Credit to the old man,” Sam Freedman said. “He has been incredible through all of this. There are lots of little moments [that lead to this]. I get a bit worked up at times and he is pretty cool, calm and collected, so he has just been the constant throughout.”

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Soon-to-be-retired jockey Damien Oliver rode like a chief aboard Wiggum earlier in the day, but a fairytale fourth Melbourne Cup success on Alenquer went begging in his final carnival.

On a 31C day at Flemington, the connections of the contenders did their best to keep the horses chilled and relaxed ahead of the 3pm start.

Just over an hour before the race, Japanese galloper Breakup stood in stall 86. Wearing a red mask and pads around his knee joints, the raider stood in a misted fog. In stall 91 was the favourite Vauban. He raced near the pace before wilting to finish 14th for English jockey Ryan Moore. Right You Are failed to complete the course, but there are no concerns for its welfare.

The Flemington mounting yard was packed like the MCG on grand final day, a kaleidoscope of colour and filled with owners nervous and excited in equal measures. Among them were Richmond champions Tom Lynch and the recently retired Jack Riewoldt.

As the clock ticked beyond the 3pm start time, the Tigers exchanged handshakes. But when the barrier rogue missed the start by three lengths, they exchanged a worrying glance. It might have worked to Soulcombe’s advantage to settle towards the rear, for the one-time favourite ran a mighty race to reel in all but the eventual winner.

Afterwards, another connection bounced towards them and bellowed, “What a run. Bring on next year.” As with AFL premierships, there are no guarantees of another Cup run. But Without A Fight demonstrated what is possible when the conditions are favourable.