Top jockey Mark Zahra has chosen Without A Fight as his Melbourne Cup mount instead of attempting to defend his title with Gold Trip.
Zahra rode Gold Trip to victory in the race that stops a nation last year and fifth behind Romantic Warrior in Saturday’s Cox Plate.
But he has elected to board Without A Fight on the first Tuesday in November, after leading the gelding to victory in last week’s Caulfield Cup.
Zahra’s decision opened the door for back-to-back Cox Plate-winning jockey James McDonald to pick up the Melbourne Cup ride on Gold Trip.
Third-favourite Without A Fight will carry 56.5kg in the 3200m handicap test, while second-favourite Gold Trip will carry 58.5kg.
Zahra has been in hot form, adding four winners at Moonee Valley on Saturday to his Caulfield Cup triumph a week earlier.
Saturday’s victories included Bold Bastille (Inglis Banner), Prowess (Crystal Mile), Apulia (Moonee Valley Vase) and Archo Nacho (Red Anchor Stakes).
“It is up there (as a highlight),” Zahra said after the last race of the day.
“I’ve ridden maybe one or two winners on Cox Plate Day but I would have liked it more if I’d won the Cox Plate.
“But to ride four is a big achievement.”
Zahra has a strong connection and history with Gold Trip after last year’s Melbourne Cup win.
He had chosen to ride Without A Fight in the Caulfield Cup before Gold Trip, who finished third under Ben Melham, was accepted for the race.
It had been an agonising decision for Zahra, who was understandably pleased with his call after winning the 2400m handicap.
At the time, he urged trainers Anthony and Sam Freedman to send Without A Fight back to Flemington, where the gelding finished a disappointing 13th in last year’s Melbourne Cup.
“You’ve got to have a crack,” Zahra said.
“That (Caulfield Cup win) was second-up from a spell.
“A great training performance from the Freedmans to get him right, so you think there’s got to be a little bit of improvement.
“The way he switched off this prep, in Brisbane (during the winter) I thought he won’t run past 2000m, so I said send him to the Cox Plate.
“He just came back so much more relaxed so you’ve got to have a crack.”