Class prevailed in the fourth running of the $5 million All-Star Mile with Zaaki scoring a dominant win in the 1600-metre event at Flemington.
The Annabel Neasham-trained gelding made light work of the outside barrier to land the $2.25m winner’s purse and justify his standing as the highest-rated runner in the 15-horse field.
The seven-year-old defeated Golden Eagle winner I’m Thunderstruck and Group 1 winner Streets Of Avalon to take his career earnings to $6,183,357 with his seventh win from 11 starts since landing in Australia.
It was the continuation of a dream week for Melbourne’s premier rider, Jamie Kah, who on Monday rode five winners, including the Group 3 Adelaide Cup, at Morphettville.
Only the $7.75m Melbourne Cup is a richer race in Victoria than the All-Star Mile and Kah was delighted to make the most of the opportunity after being forced to the miss the Spring Carnival owing to her part in the ‘Mornington B&B’ saga.
“It just means so much more after coming back and what we had to go through,” she said.
“I missed out on so many big opportunities through Spring. It’s just so special.
“There’s a lot of pressure riding a horse like him and not that I’m one that really feels it, but I’ve been runner up in a few of the big ones lately and it’s just so nice to get the job done on a horse like him.”
Kah didn’t panic when forced to sit wide early, taking her time to find the spot outside the leader Callsign Mav, before taking charge when the former New Zealander started to weaken at the 350m.
Zaaki, the $2.40 favourite, was more than two lengths clear 200m from home and while I’m Thunderstruck ($8.50) charged late after finding clear running from the 300m, he finished 1-1/2 lengths short of victory.
Streets Of Avalon – the outsider of the field at $201 – ran a huge race to finish just three quarters of a length further back at his third All-Star Mile appearance with Mr Brightside ($26) 1-1/4 away fourth.
Neasham conceded to having concerns turning for home, but was thrilled to celebrate her most lucrative win since taking out her trainer’s licence.
“A $5 million race, it’s unbelievable,” Neasham said.
“I don’t know why I was worried at the top of the straight, I needn’t be. He’s just unbelievable. I get very nervous when he’s running, it just feels like relief but elation as well.”
Jye Mcneil was full of praise for I’m Thunderstruck, who was bailed away on the fence from the inside barrier until early in the straight.
“Terrific run,” McNeil said. “They probably just backed it off too much in the middle stages and it made it too tough for him to win.”
Neasham said Zaaki would now progress to the $4 million Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Randwick on April 9 for which Zaaki is TAB’s $4.50 joint second favourite with Verry Elleegant behind dominant Rosehill Guineas winner Anamoe ($3.50).