The three-time Group One winner burst onto the Australian racing scene with a dominant win in the race last year but had to fight for a second victory, with the Chris Waller pair of Polly Grey and Kukeracha filling the placings just 0.75 and 1.25 lengths off the winner.
Ridden by James Macdonald, Zaaki was urged along to lead the field, with boom horse Ayrton sent forward from a wide gate to sit outside the $1.45 favourite. Ayrton quickly came under pressure rounding the turn but Zaaki had to dig deep to record his eighth win in Australia.
Trainer Annabel Neesham was wary of how fresh Zaaki was pre-race but pleased with the result.
“This is the freshest he’s been. He had a bit of a bronc with James (McDonald) when he got down on the track and then my only worry is I’ve I left him too fresh and is he going to travel too strongly,” said Neesham.
“James just knows him so well and he took luck out of the equation. For a moment there, I thought the second two horses were coming thick and fast and credit to them, they kept him very honest all the way to the line, but he was too good,” she continued.
McDonald, who has ridden the horse for five wins, knew the challenge of getting Zaaki to relax.
“I knew the hardest part of it was going to be getting on him and getting to the barriers. He’s such a quirky bugger,” said McDonald.
“It’s going to sound funny, but a white bird crossed the track and he just gawked at it and he pulled himself up for two furlongs. So it was a funny thing for him to shy at, but it worked in our favour because if he kept going that speed I would have been gone,” said McDonald.
Neesham confirmed Zaaki will next run in the Group One Doomben Cup, a race he won by 7 lengths last year, and both trainer and jockey hope he finds a firmer surface.
“I hope he doesn’t have to see track conditions like it (again) because the tracks beautiful and safe, but it’s just not to his liking. He was working, working and working the whole way so he never got a rest or conserved any energy so the performance was better than what it looked,” said McDonald.