Twelve months ago, Mark Zahra was drowning his sorrows while serving a suspension and missing out on winning Melbourne Cup ride Verry Elleegant.
On Tuesday he was popping a champagne bottle for a very different reason.
It’s fair to say the gifted rider had his moment of redemption aboard 2022 Cup victor Gold Trip for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace at Flemington.
He showed why he is one of the best jockeys in Australia with the way he timed the six-year-old’s run home, making his move early on the straight in the 3200m staying race worth $7.75 million.
The despair of being sidelined for three months during last year’s edition of the race that stops a nation – over the notorious AirBNB party scandal – was a distant memory on Tuesday afternoon.
“This time last year I was watching Verry Elleegant win and getting told off for drinking too much,” Zahra told racing.com.
“To come a full year and have redemption with a horse like this with good mates of mine who train and own the horse, and my wife’s here, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
What was also “unbelievable” in his own words – as well as thousands watching on all around Australia and the world – was Gold Trip’s run home.
“Unbelievable,” Zahra said.
“I was thinking I was a little too far back. But I didn’t want to push early because I thought he might die late.
“I was in a three-wide lane and just kept improving and improving. I counted to 10 a couple of times when a few came around me.
I was just following Young Werther and Damian (Lane aboard the five-year-old) was waiting.
“I got to the top of the straight and thought ‘right, it’s time to go now’.
“He let rip when I asked him.”
And that was the moment the 2022 Melbourne Cup was won.
Maher’s mother, Eileen, experienced the moment where she knew her son would win Australia’s sacred staying race a couple of months ago.
“Ciaron said to me two months ago ‘I didn’t get in this business, Mum, to come second. I only got in this business to come first’,” she said.
“So from then on I knew it would happen.”
Maher was full of praise for his mother, family, close friends, connections and stable staff after Gold Trip’s triumph.
It truly was a massive collective effort from so many close to him and, as a gifted young trainer full of charisma, he inspired all of them.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. Phenomenal,” he said.
“Everyone’s had a lot to do with this horse. (Farrier) John Bunting is a great mate of mine.
“He’s had this horse in very good order all the way along. Great mate, great bloke and very good at what he does.
“Dave my brother. Everyone. It’s just huge.
“Dave (Eustace) and I are lucky enough to stand up here, but most of our staff are here today.
“Friends and family. It’s just fantastic.”
Like Zahra, Eustace also had to overcome steep hardships to be celebrating as a Melbourne Cup-winning trainer.
Just eight years ago, he was living in a share house at Newmarket in the UK alongside fellow trainers who had runners in this year’s Cup, James Ferguson and Ed Crisford.
“It is (an incredible journey). Great honour just to work these horses and for Ciaron,” Eustace said.
“It’s not lost on me what a privilege it is. As Ciaron touched on, most of the staff are here and it’s an amazing team effort.
“It’s pretty surreal at the moment.”
It wasn’t just Maher’s mother Eileen who experienced the power of her son’s imagination when she knew he’d go on to win the Melbourne Cup two months ago.
Maher’s father John also saw it from when Ciaron was just a boy.
“I said to Dad when I was 12 that we were going to New Zealand via a New Zealand horse to win the Cup,” Maher said.
“There have been a few hurdles, but it’s great to have everyone here.”
Indeed, Maher made sure he paid credit to everyone who has helped him along the way because his journey to the top has been an incredible one.
It all started when he was a jockey and Eileen could not help but look at him and burst into tears.
During his teenage years as an apprentice jockey, her almost-gaunt son was surviving on portions of bran and living in the sauna.
But she always saw how fiercely determined he was to make a career out of racing.
You couldn’t have scripted it any better.
“It’s such a special moment. Great clients, friends and family and all the team has done a fantastic job,” Maher said.
See all the 2022 Melbourne Cup results and finishing order here: