Mark Zahra punished for illegal act on Melbourne Cup day as suspension storm erupts

Horse racing pundits are asking questions about the rules around whip use and suspensions.

Mark Zahra and Damian Lane on Melbourne Cup day.
Mark Zahra was allowed to defer his suspension, but Damian Lane will have to serve his immediately. Image: Getty

Questions are being asked about horse racing's rules regarding whip use and suspensions after Mark Zahra's triumph aboard Without a Fight in the Melbourne Cup. For the first time in a number of years, stewards found no indiscretions from the Melbourne Cup race in terms of whip use or riding tactics.

But it was a different story for Damian Lane, who was found to have used the whip too many times while winning the TAB Trophy on Warmonger earlier on Tuesday at Flemington. Lane has been hit with a $2000 fine and 10-meeting suspension as a result and will miss the Champion Stakes on Saturday.

'WHAT A JOKE': Fans left furious over 'sneaky' Melbourne Cup move

'SURPRISED': Jamie Kah scores win over Melbourne Cup day amid dramas

Under normal circumstances he would be able to defer the suspension to a time that suits him more, but any bans handed out during Melbourne Cup week must be served immediately. Although Lane is free to ride on Oaks Day on Thursday because acceptances have already been taken.

But the situation has led to questions about the special rules in place during Cup week, particularly considering Zahra was controversially allowed to serve a seven-meeting ban at any time of his choosing just recently. Zahra was hit with the ban and a $50,000 fine after stewards found him in breach of whip rules when he won the Caulfield Cup (also on Without a Fight) last month.

Zahra was deemed to have used the whip nine times prior to the final 100m of the race and 13 times in total. Under horse racing rules, jockeys can only use the whip a maximum of five times before the final 100 metres. They can then use the whip an unlimited number of times until the end of the race as long as it doesn't occur on consecutive strides.

Damian Lane on Melbourne Cup day.
Damian Lane returns to the mounting yard on Warmonger after winning the TAB Trophy on Melbourne Cup day. (Photo by Reg Ryan/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

Because Zahra's breach occurred outside of Cup week, he was able to serve the seven-meeting ban at a time of his choosing and didn't miss any Group 1 races as a result. He chose to serve it after the Cox Plate and before the Victoria Derby last Saturday and wasn't forced to miss any significant races.

Zahra once again fell foul of whip rules on Tuesday after he was found to have hit Aztec State nine times before the 100m mark during the TAB Trophy. He was fined $500 but escaped a suspension.

Craig Newitt was also found to have used his whip 10 times before the 100m mark on Platinum Wolf in Race 6. He has also been hit with a 10-meeting ban and a $500 fine.

Mark Zahra and Sam Freedman, pictured here after winning the Melbourne Cup.
Mark Zahra celebrates with Sam Freedman after winning the Melbourne Cup on Without A Fight. (Photo by George Sal/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

Racing expert Peter le Grand wrote on X on Tuesday: "Just don’t understand how Damian Lane gets immediate suspension for whip breach 'special cup rules' yet Mark Zahra can do as he likes in Caulfield Cup and choose his suspension period. This is crazy Racing Victoria. This needs reviewing, is a poor look for racing. We need consistency."

Speaking after Zahra's ban was handed down last month, commentator Gerard Whateley said: "He is allowed to strike his mount five times. He blatantly and flagrantly ignores that rule, knowing what’s required and hits Without a Fight nine times. Zahra gained a competitive advantage by breaking the rules."

Whip use in the spotlight at Melbourne Cup

Racing Victoria stewards were particularly keen to ensure there were no whip breaches on Melbourne Cup day, sending out a text message to all jockeys on Tuesday. "Racing Victoria stewards, in conjunction with the Victorian Jockeys Association, will communicate to all jockeys on Tuesday morning about the rules we have in Australia and the importance of them being adhered to," Victorian Jockeys' Association chief executive Matt Hyland said.

Kerrin McEvoy was hit with a $50,000 fine for excessive whip use in the 2020 Melbourne Cup when he rode Tiger Moth to second place. The three-time Cup winner was found to have used the whip 13 times before the final 100m.

At last year's Cup, Damien Thornton was fined $4000 and Daniel Moor $2000 fine. Both jockeys used the whip four more times than allowed.

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.