'He's a gem': Without a Fight wins Melbourne Cup to give Mark Zahra back-to-back victories

Seven-year-old gelding stormed clear in the final 100m to hold off Soulcombe and outsider Sheraz in a thrilling finish to the 'race that stops a nation'

Jockey Mark Zahra celebrates winning on his horse Without a Fight in the $6 million Melbourne Cup. AFP
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Without a Fight won the 2023 Melbourne Cup to make it back-to-back victories for jockey Mark Zahra in the so-called "race that stops a nation".

The seven-year-old gelding stormed clear in the final 100m to hold off Soulcombe and outsider Sheraz in a thrilling finish to the gruelling 3,200-metre handicap at Flemington and with it a Aus$8 million ($6 million) winner's cheque.

Gold Trip, the horse Zahra steered to victory last year, faded to 17th on a hot day in Victoria.

"That's unbelievable, he was just an absolute gem today," said Zahra, who won the recent Group 1 Caulfield Cup on Without a Fight and opted to stay with him rather than move back to Gold Trip.

"I was following Alenquer ... in front of him was Gold Trip and in front of him was Vauban. I just thought I'd stay here. They all made their moves and it opened up for me.

"I was on a horse that you could just sit on, he has an electric turn of foot and he just pulled me all the way to the line."

Zahra is the ninth jockey to ride back-to-back Melbourne Cup winners and Without a Fight became the first horse to clinch the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double since Ethereal in 2001.

"An extraordinary ride. He got him onto the rail from a wide gate, relaxed, switched him off and pretty confident probably the [last] 800 metres the way he was travelling," said co-trainer Sam Freedman, who hails from one of Australia's most prominent racing families.

"He's a freak," he said of the horse. "He was excellent."

A cultural institution in Australia, the Melbourne Cup has been run on the first Tuesday of November since 1876 and is considered so important it is a public holiday in its host state of Victoria.

An estimated 85,000 spectators attended this year's race at Flemington Racecourse.

Breaking from Gate 16, Without a Fight settled in the middle of the pack behind early leader Serpentine, who led out hard.

With 1,000m to go, Serpentine was still ahead but was slowly reeled in down the home straight with Zahra hitting the lead in the final stretch and kicking clear.

The race was reduced to 23 starters after Cleveland was scratched due to an elevated temperature, dealing a blow to trainer Lloyd Williams' chances of winning an eighth Melbourne Cup.

Stricter veterinary checks have been introduced since the deaths of six horses associated with the Melbourne Cup since 2013.

Williams' other horse, Serpentine, finished 19th.

Retiring veteran jockey Damien Oliver, in his 32nd and final Melbourne Cup, was denied a record-equalling fourth win in his last ride, with his horse Alenquer coming 21st.

Kerrin McEvoy was also chasing a fourth win to match the exploits of Bobbie Lewis and Harry White, but he too was out of luck on Ashrun, which finished fourth.

Right You Are failed to finish, reportedly suffering heat stress.

Updated: November 07, 2023, 10:24 AM