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Gold class shines through as Maher and Eustace claim first Melbourne Cup success

International class and Australian horsemanship came to the fore in the G1 Melbourne Cup when Gold Trip delivered Ciaron Maher and David Eustace their first success in Australia’s most famous race.

Gold Trip, the French-bred Arc contender turned Australian handicapper, proved too classy for his rivals in the AU$8 million G1 Melbourne Cup, holding off a late charge from Emissary to record a breakthrough victory in the race for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace.

With jockey Mark Zahra carrying the Australian Bloodstock colours, which had previously saluted in the race with Protectionist in 2014, Gold Trip became the first top-weight to win the 3200-metre race since Makybe Diva in 2005.

Before Tuesday, Gold Trip had just one racetrack win to his name and with 57.5kg on his back, there were plenty of doubts as to whether he could defy the handicapper and win the race. As a result, he started at odds of $21.

But Zahra timed his run perfectly, circling the field as the leaders dropped out at the 600-metre mark and quickly setting out after Knights Order and Deauville Legend, who had swept to the lead at the top of the straight.

A rapid turn of foot initially left Emissary in Gold Trip’s wake, but the Michael Moroney-trained six-year-old rallied under a strong ride from Patrick Moloney.

Inside the 200 metres, Gold Trip began to wander about, and Emissary looked to close within a length, but the challenger’s run came to an end and Zahra got his mount to straighten up. That meant they could cross the line a comfortable two lengths clear, allowing the jockey the luxury of a winning salute.

The winner’s stablemate High Emocean finished off better than any other runner to claim third another 1.25 lengths adrift and 1.75 lengths in front of fourth-placed Deauville Legend, the favourite for the race who was given every chance by jockey Kerrin McEvoy, but did not run out the trip as expected.

The victory was a career highlight for Maher and Eustace, who had had 10 prior runners in the race before this year, with a best result of fourth. Weight of numbers were on their side in this year’s edition, with five runners and so it proved.

The training partnership began just over four years ago and has now won 20 Group 1s, while Maher had won 10 top-flight races under his own name prior to that.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet, it’s phenomenal,” Maher, who dreamed of success in the race as a child, said. “Dave and I are lucky to stand up here, but all of our staff, most of who are here today, and friends and family, have got us there, it’s amazing.”

For Eustace, the younger of the pair but often the more composed, it has been an extraordinary rise having arrived in Australia from England only a few years ago, to share yet an iconic racing moment with Maher.

“For me it’s a great honour really, just to be working with these horses and working with Ciaron and it’s not lost on me what a privilege it is,” he said.

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David Eustace, Mark Zahra and Ciaron Maher celebrate their Melbourne Cup success . (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

Zahra sat out last year’s Melbourne Cup due to a much-publicised ban and watched the horse who he would have ridden, Verry Elleegant, win the race emphatically.

“This time last year I was watching her win and getting told off for drinking too much, and that hurt and so to come a full year on and get redemption and win on a horse like this for good mates of mine, who train the horse and own the horse is an unbelievable feeling.”

It was Zahra’s fifth ride in the race and provided him with his 23rd Group 1 success.

He and Gold Trip had been narrowly beaten in this year’s Caulfield Cup, just the horse’s fourth start in Australia. The six-year-old import was then a luckless ninth in the Cox Plate, beaten less than three lengths, before recording his first Australian victory in the country’s most historic and famous race.

Gold Trip carried the top weight largely due to his form in France where he won a Group 2 race and was placed at Group 1 level, while he also finished fourth in the 2020 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, only 2.7 lengths behind Sottsass.

He had been purchased by Australian Bloodstock in August 2021 with a view to running in that year’s Cox Plate but was ruled out by vets on the eve of that race, prompting a switch of targets to 2022.

Mark Zahra and Gold Trip salute the crowd. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Prior to that, Gold Trip had been trained in France by Fabrice Chappet and owned by Jean-Louis Bouchard, having been bought for 60,000 euros at the 2018 Arqana August Yearling Sale.

A son of G1 Breeders Cup Turf Juvenile winner Outstrip, himself a son of Group 1-winning Australian sprinter Exceed And Excel, Gold Trip was bred by Michel Monfort. His dam, Sarvana, is by Dubai Destination.

The runner-up, the Juddmonte-bred Emissary, is a son of Kingman and also has an Arc connection, being a half-brother to 2010 winner Workforce, while the third horse home, High Emocean, is a daughter of Ocean Park and was bred by the Hawkins family of Wentwood Grange.

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