Lexus Melbourne Cup (Group 1)

TRAINED by Anthony Freedman and his son Sam, the Irish-bred Without A Fight has become the first horse since Ethereal in 2001 to complete the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup double and just the 12th in the shared history of the two races.

In sweltering spring heat that hovered around 30°C most of the day, the 3,200m Group 1 Lexus Melbourne Cup, worth A$8.4 million, was never in double once Mark Zahra guided the Teofilo gelding into the clear with 250m to run.

The victory made 41-year-old Zahra the first jockey since Harry White in 1978 and 1979 to win consecutive Melbourne Cups on different horses.

Serpentine, as he has shown in the past, animated the early stages of the race’s 163rd edition. Taking up the running, the Williams family’s only runner ensured there was a solid tempo as the field of 24 was spread across 20 lengths with half the race completed.

Ryan Moore gave the favourite Vauban the run of the race as he and his stablemate Absurde loomed on straightening with Hollie Doyle on Future History leading the field into the straight.

Conversely, Without A Fight had layers of horses around him as Zahra used his guile to get onto the back of Vauban. Behind the Mullins pair, Zahra had time to wait for the gap to open up behind Absurde before making his run.

Approaching the 300m mark, Without A Fight was out running through his gears as he swept by Absurde to put a decisive gap on the field.


Joao Moreira with a ride he’d rather forget was on the back of the eventual winner before the turn but patience got the better of him as he switched back and forth on the British-bred Soulcombe searching for a run.

Moreira changed angles five times before getting into the clear to fail by two and a quarter lengths on the Frankel gelding. Third at the ‘write your own ticket’ odds of 150/1 was the French-bred Sea The Stars gelding Sheraz who once again proved that if you can run a strong 3,200m, you will be in the frame.

The 2022 Sydney Cup (3,200m) runner-up collected $550,000 for his owners as only half the field finished within 10 lengths of the winner, and placings sixth through to 12th received $160,000 on prize money.

“I was inside Gold Trip and on the back of Zac Purton’s mount (Absurde) and then I got that gap and I thought, ‘there is not a horse that can beat me’ and he kicked strong, so from 400 out I knew I had it won,” said an elated Mark Zahra.

“A horse with that turn of foot, you could sit and wait. I was following the right jockeys and they made their moves and it opened up for me a bit. Once it opens up, it’s a great feeling.”

A Freedman triumph

Twenty-seven-year-old Sam Freedman, whose uncle Lee trained five Melbourne Cup winners between 1989 and 2005, has, along with his co-trainer and father Anthony broke new ground for the family claiming a first Caulfield and Melbourne Cups double.

Fifty-nine-year-old Anthony, who along with his brothers Richard and Michael were assistants to Lee at the height of their powers in the 1980s and 1990s was not on track for the win, preferring a friend’s winery on the Mornington Peninsula to view the race and happy for Sam to take the limelight.

Pretty good

“He gave me: ‘That was pretty good today’, and that was ‘word-for-word’,” said Sam Freedman at the Cup press conference.

“He’s very measured. He’s been there and done it, but I think for him it’s great to have his name on this because he was part of it when Lee was having a lot of success. I am sure it means a lot to him even though he won’t say.

“It’s always been his character and I think it’s the reason he’s had so much success, always kept his feet on the ground and looking to the next target, it’s a long spring.” Having pulled up well afterwards Without A FIght is unlikely to continue as the trainers look to 2024.

“We’ll keep him in the stable for a few days, keep a close eye on him, and see how he comes through it, but initial signs are you couldn’t have hoped for him to pull up any better.”

Irish hopes fall flat

GREAT expectation was met with great disappointment. With the longtime race favourite Vauban and his ‘understudy’ Absurde, who was heavily backed into $9 on raceday, Willie Mullins added a seventh place to his previous tally of second, third, fourth and sixth placings.

“He was gone too far, too far out for my liking,” said Mullins of Vauban who finished 14th, 13 lengths from the winner.

“I saw Ryan having to niggle six furlongs out, I thought, ‘that’s not him on the day’ because he should have been travelling at that stage. I thought that was too far out for him to be niggling and he just flattened out and ran very disappointingly.” Conversely Mullins was delighted with his stablemate, though you could argue Zac Purton got there too early.

“I thought Absurde (seventh) ran a cracker,” added Mullins. “Zac was very happy, we were very happy that he had him in the right position at the right time. About a third of the way up the straight, I thought, ‘we have a chance of winning here’.”

Boiling point

Perhaps the heat played a role. Mullins, when asked about the prospect of a 30°C day, had quipped in the lead-up, “As everyone knows, the boiling point of an Irishman is 22”.

Perhaps the speed of a race was also a factor, the race time, 3m18.37secs, was five seconds quicker on a similar surface than Max Dynamite’s half-length second in 2015 as three of the four fastest times in the 22 years since Media Puzzle’s win have come in the last four years.

Irrespective Mullins has an itch he can’t scratch, perhaps even an obsession, ever since he brought Holy Orders out in 2003, or when at Flemington on holiday in Vintage Crop’s famed year.

“Of course, we will be back, if we get a chance,” reflected Mullins. “It’s a great prize, it’s a great day and people love coming here. My owners are still having a good time so we’re happy and if we get one good enough, we’ll try again.”


Ireland was also represented by the Joseph O’Brien-trained Okita Soushi. The signals on his chance were not very strong with Joseph electing to return home after the Breeders’ Cup though his Galileo horse paid his way producing an eight and a half-length 11th earning connections A$160,000.

“He probably got too far back to win, but I thought the way he maintained himself through the line was a good effort. That was pretty fun,” said leading Sydney apprentice Dylan Gibbons on dismounting.