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Gold Trip wins 2022 Melbourne Cup as jockey Mark Zahra gains redemption

Often the bridesmaid in big races this spring, jockey Mark Zahra was able to turn around his fortunes when triumphant aboard Gold Trip in the 2022 Melbourne Cup. Desperately unlucky when finishing second in the Caulfield Cup, the top-weight for the 162nd running of the famous race dashed clear in the straight for a decisive victory.

The French-bred six-year-old, who started at 18-1, seized the lead 300 metres from the finish and was able to hold off Emissary, with stablemate High Emocean finishing third. Race favourite Deauville Legend looked the winner for a fleeting moment in the home straight but weakened to finish fourth behind Gold Trip, which carried 57.5kg to victory.

Horses race on green grass of a racetrack’s home straight in front of packed crowds of people standing on the ground and in stands

It started with sludge and ended with rain but for many all that mattered was the Melbourne Cup was back

The triumph makes up for the devastation Zahra, 40, felt 12 months ago as he watched Verry Elleegant triumph while sidelined and also for the disappointment he experienced with a string of near misses over the past month. After finishing second in the Caulfield Cup on the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained Gold Trip, he also finished runner-up on I’m Thunderstruck in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.

Riding in Kalgoorlie at the turn of the century, the WA-raised jockey never imagined he would have a chance to ride in the Melbourne Cup. But having established himself a top flight horseman, he was booked to ride Verry Elleegant at the start of the mare’s campaign for the 2021 Melbourne Cup campaign.

But the 40-year-old missed Verry Elleegant’s triumph when among the jockeys banned for attending a house party in breach of Covid-19 guidelines which led to a three-month suspension. He watched in a drunken despair from Byron Bay as the champion mare produced a brilliant run.

“This time last year I was in Byron Bay and I was getting told off for drinking too much, [because] it could have been my ride. [It is] redemption day today. It is a miracle,” he said.

“Twelve months I felt terrible and I was drinking my way out of it and [my wife Elyse] was saying, ‘Don’t drink too much’. I said, ‘What do you want me to do? My horse just won the Melbourne Cup.’ For today to come, and I’ve got good mates in [Gold Trip], it is just unbelievable.”

Showing great confidence in the staying capabilities of Gold Trip, Zahra rode a heady race to claim the Melbourne Cup for the first time. But as he returned to scale, he conceded that never had a straight felt as long as the punishing finish at Flemington, as he feared Gold Trip may have hit the front too early.

“I got to the front a bit soon but he is a horse that, when you go for it, you have to go. You don’t want to give him time to think about it,” he said. “I can’t put this triumph into words. It is unbelievable.”

Maher praised Gold Trip, which finished an unlucky ninth in the Cox Plate before rebounding strongly at Flemington to record its second win from 16 starts.

The triumph makes up for a controversy a year ago when Gold Trip was scratched on the eve of the Cox Plate when stood down by stewards, a decision Maher described as “pretty embarrassing” given the stable believed the horse was fit to compete.

“To run in three of the big ones and then present in the cup like that was fantastic,” he said. “Mark was very good on him in the Caulfield Cup. We knew he had that good turn of foot and he was fantastic today. It is unbelievable. It is a dream come true. I am just thrilled.”

Maher’s first memory of the Melbourne Cup was when watching the race as a schoolboy at the Mailors Flat Primary School in western Victoria. At that stage, his family was into motorbikes. But he was hooked.

He pursued a career as a jumps jockey about the time Zahra moved east to Victoria. The pair became friends. After the triumph, Zahra said he could remember the beer cans lying around Maher’s place after parties in their youth. He suspected the Gold Trip team might celebrate in grander style on Tuesday night.

Eustace was raised in England but has formed a formidable training partnership with Maher since moving to Victoria.

“Obviously I am a bit overcome,” he said. “It is a dream to win it. It is a pinnacle for our sport. I am so grateful to be training with him. This horse, who was so unlucky in the Caulfield Cup … it is quite incredible.”

Interpretation, another stablemate of the winner, did not finish, though the Maher and Eustace camp said it appeared the stallion had suffered a wind issue. Three horses were officially listed as finishing distanced – Numerian at 73 lengths behind the winner, and Camorra and Serpentine 99 lengths adrift.

A field of 22 jumped after the late scratchings of Point Nepean with an elevated blood count on Monday and Lunar Flare due to lameness on Tuesday morning. Leading contenders Loft and Durston, the Caulfield Cup winner, were withdrawn prior to acceptances after stewards found soundness issues.

Torrential rain that fell on Melbourne earlier on Tuesday cleared for the marquee event, but come the 3pm start time the track was hardly dry.

A section near the 1,500m mark has also sustained damage in the early hours of Tuesday morning when protesters poured an unknown fluid onto the surface. The track was cleaned and repaired before being deemed fit to race on. Police say they are investigating the incident.

The Guardien