Mark Zahra's road from Geraldton Turf Club to Flemington and Melbourne Cup glory
WA has a new sporting hero as Mark Zahra claimed the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday completing a two-decade quest that started in Geraldton.
Zahra’s road to the top started on Boxing Day in 1998 as a 16-year-old riding for the first time, for Dean White on Red Lizzie at the Geraldton Turf Club, with his first win coming less than three months later, also in Geraldton, on Winrosy on March 1, 1999.
Zahra could barely contain his emotions after claiming his first Melbourne Cup more than 20 years later.
“The last 50 I was thinking, ‘f--- me, I’m going to win this here,’” he said in a post-race interview
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“I still can’t believe it. It’s the Melbourne Cup, it’s just unbelievable.”
The 40-year-old could have so easily been holding the cup last year after being slated to ride Verry Elleegant but was hit with a three-month ban for attending a house party in the wake of Victoria’s lockdown laws.
He was forced to watch as James McDonald led the horse to victory in what he admits was a tough pill to swallow.
“This time last year I was in Byron Bay and I was getting told off for drinking too much and it could have been my ride. Redemption day today. Just a miracle,” Zahra said.
Zahra raced 44 times at the Geraldton Turf Club, winning three races and placing once.
Chairman of the Geraldton Turf Club Brian O’Dwyer has faint memories of Zahra’s racing and said many jockeys got their start in Geraldton.
“He’s gone on to bigger and better things over east and good luck to him,” he said.
“A lot of the apprentices riding today got their start here and they got to learn somewhere and with the reputation that Geraldton racing as this is the place to start.”
Zahra moved to Melbourne in 2001 on the advice of fellow jockey Peter Knuckey in search of bigger rides.
Zahra suffered a horrific fall at Flemington on Melbourne Cup day in 2008 that left him with a broken left wrist and two broken bones in his lower right leg among injuries described as similar to those of a car crash victim.
He returned a year later and made his cup debut aboard Zavite, finishing ninth, and would not finish better than seventh which was on Verry Elleegant in 2020, a year before her triumph last year.
But after many trials and near misses Zahra can finally celebrate the ultimate triumph.
“I just feel like crying, it’s unbelievable, what a day,” he said.
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