IN Racing
Jockey indiscretion not the real story behind Caulfield Cup win
John Jenkins | October 28, 2023
Without a Fight in last Saturdays A$5million Caufield Cup

Jockey indiscretion not the real story behind Caulfield Cup win

The Caulfield Cup is one of the iconic races in the Southern Hemisphere. It is one of the jewels in “The Crown” of Australian racing, along with the Melbourne Cup and the Cox Plate.

First run in 1879, last Saturday saw the 144th running of what is the world’s richest 2400m handicap race. More than 25,000 people turned up on course to watch it as well as a world-wide viewing audience of millions.

The result befitted the occasion with two horses, Without A Fight and West Wind Blows, going stride for stride in a titanic battle over the last 250m with only a head separating them at the finish.

As a racing journalist with 48 years of experience I have seen a lot of tight finishes in Group 1 races and they still send a tingle up my spine.

Two jockeys locked in battle, neither giving an inch as they strive to the line, is what racing is all about and may long it continue.

Because of its international importance, the Caulfield Cup result does make it on mainstream television and was part of the TV1 Sports News segment on Sunday night.

But, instead of highlighting the race for the great spectacle it was and that the winning jockey had agonised all week over whether he had taken the right mount, the media instead centred on the fact that the jockey had been fined A$50,000 and suspended for seven race meetings for excessive use of the whip.

It seems that mainstream media have gone so far left nowadays that they only want to accentuate the negatives in racing and sports events and not the positives.

Mark Zahra, the jockey aboard race-winner Without A Fight, did cop a seven meeting suspension and a A$50,000 fine for breaching the whip rules.

He used the whip on nine occasions prior to the 100-metre mark, four more times than permitted, and 13 hits in totality.

There are now stringent rules governing whip use by jockeys in races, both in Australia and New Zealand. Racing Victoria introduced new guidelines in August 2020, after consultation with the Victorian Jockeys Association.

Whilst minimums were implemented, the final penalties remained at the discretion of the Raceday Stewards, with higher fines and/or lengthier suspensions for whip breaches in Group and Feature races and/or if a rider has a poor disciplinary record for whip related offences.

The winning stake in last Saturday’s Caulfield Cup was A$3million of which the winning jockey received five per cent, or A$150,000.

It is also common practice that, in such big races, the winning owner is likely to sling the jockey another five per cent.

Without A Fight is owned by Dubai-based Sheikh Mohammed Obaid al Maktoum.

Mark Zahra was recording his second Caulfield Cup success, the first being aboard the New Zealand-owned and bred mare Verry Elleegant in 2020.

Whilst shocked at the severity of the penalty handed out to him, he has taken it on the chin and has been able to defer the suspension until midnight this Saturday, meaning he will be able to ride Gold Trip in today’s A$5million Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.

With such huge prizemoney on offer in Australian racing it is little wonder that, in the heat of the battle, a jockey can breach the rules whether it be excessive use of the whip or causing interference.

If you were the owner of a horse that looked to have a great winning chance in the final stages of a $A5million Caulfield Cup you would want your jockey to give his or her all to get it across the line first.

The padded whips that jockeys use today are a lot different to those used in years gone by.

The guidelines regarding whip use prior to the last 100 metres of a race are as follows.

  • That the whip must not be used in consecutive strides.
  • The whip must not be used on more than five occasions, except where there have only been minor infractions and the totality of the whip use over the whole race is less than permitted under the rules.
  • The rider may, at their discretion, use the whip with a slapping motion down the shoulder, with the whip hand remaining on the reins.
  • In the final 100 metres of a race a rider may use the whip at their own discretion.

Which brings us to the actual whips now being used in racing.

In years gone by whips were thin, with just a flap on the end, and they did sometimes leave a welt mark on the horse’s rump. But nowadays the whips are made of a padded material that doesn’t hurt the horse at all, it just makes a slapping noise which is designed to spur the horse on to the finish.

The padded whip specifications are:

  • The maximum length of whip must not exceed 70cm.
  • No binding within 18cm of the end of whip.
  • Minimum width of pad 2.5cm. 
  • Minimum length of pad not less than 18cm for whips 60cm in length; for longer whips the flap length must not be less than 30% of the whip length.
  • The overall weight of the whip must not exceed 160gm.
  • The contact area of the shaft (including pad) must be smooth with no protrusion or raised surface.
  • The padded segment of the whip shall consist of a material approved by Stewards that does not harden over time. Padded materials must not absorb water. 
  • Leather pads are not permitted.
  • The inner padded section shall consist of only closed cell foam of not less than 7mm (one-side) in thickness.
  • The thickness of the outer pad can be no greater than 1mm.
  • All whips must be dark in colour.

So, as you can see, everything is being done to protect the horse from harm.

Which brings us back to the real story from last Saturday’s Caulfield Cup. How winning jockey Mark Zahra had agonised all last week over whether or not he had chosen the right horse to ride in the famous race.

Booked a long way out to ride Without A Fight after the former Simon and Ed Crisford-trained import won back to back races in Queensland over the winter, Zahra was reluctant to miss out on partnering Gold Trip in the race.

He had steered Gold Trip to second in last year’s Caulfield Cup and famously won the Melbourne Cup aboard the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained stayer the following month.

But his commitment to Without A Fight - now stabled with Anthony and Sam Freedman - paid the ultimate dividends, as he outsprinted and outstayed West Wind Blows in one of the great Caulfield Cup finishes, with Gold Trip dashing home for third.

A fortnight ago, Gold Trip shaped as the horse to beat, when Zahra partnered his Melbourne Cup-winning mount to victory in the Turnbull Stakes.

Zahra joked that Gold Trip’s connections should bypass the Caulfield Cup and aim their focus on the Cox Plate, knowing he had the commitment to Without A Fight.

There was also another twist to the story as Without A Fight had failed an initial assessment by vets on the Thursday before the Cup but was re-examined on Friday afternoon and passed fit to run.

Zahra said he had not slept on Wednesday night after Gold Trip was a last-minute confirmation for the Caulfield Cup.

“It was like someone stealing your missus, someone else getting the ride on Gold Trip, and I was just a bit shattered,” he said.

“I thought, ‘F***, 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.

“But then 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 said (he would) and he’s just a lazy trotter.”

As it turned out Zahra pulled the right rein. He was on the best horse on the day, bringing up his 27th Group 1 triumph and providing the father-and-son trainers Anthony and Sam Freedman with their biggest success.

It was a race that had plenty of positives and very few negatives.


Imperatriz ready to wow the racing fans again

New Zealand-trained mare Imperatriz is quickly becoming the darling of the Australian turf and she will attempt to get closer to attaining that crown when she heads to The Valley today.

The Mark Walker-trained five-year-old has been a revelation at the Melbourne track, winning her last three starts at the course, including the Group 1 William Reid Stakes (1200m), Group 2 McEwen Stakes (1000m) and Group 1 Moir Stakes (1000m).

Te Akau Racing turned down turned down the lucrative A$20 million carrot of The Everest (1200m) in Sydney earlier this month to remain in Victoria to chase further Group One glory, and this Saturday they will find out if their chosen path has paid off.

Imperatriz will line up in the Group 1 A$2million Manikato Stakes (1200m) for which she has drawn four in the seven-horse field.

The daughter of I Am Invincible has been installed a $1.45 hot favourite for the race, but Walker is not resting on their laurels.

“They don’t give away Group 1 races, especially in Australia, so we are respectful of the field,” Walker said.

“She is just a darling and we are blessed to have her in the stable. They don't make them like this too often, so we have to enjoy it while it's there.”

Walker has been pleased with her progress since her Moir Stakes win and was happy with her work at The Valley on Tuesday morning prior to the barrier draw.

“She is ready to go, it’s just maintenance work really. Everything has gone really well so I am looking forward to Saturday,” he said.