New year signals a new start for Zahra after Airbnb ban

The new year will present a fresh start for jockey Mark Zahra at Flemington on Saturday.

Zahra returns from the four-month suspension he received after the infamous Airbnb saga in August.

He could have resumed riding earlier in the week, but Zahra decided January 1 would be the right time to return.

“I thought, let’s just aim for New Year’s Day with a fresh start to a new year and start slowly,” he said.

Three of the five suspended riders, including leading jockey Jamie Kah, have returned to riding, but Zahra wanted to make a measured comeback to the saddle.

Zahra’s Chester Manifold Stakes Mount Yulong January will be the lightest of his three 59.5kg trips.

“The condition is okay, but after having so much free time, I’m still just over the 60 (kg) mark,” Zahra said.

“I do not want to rush back to it too much. I have asked Reece (Murphy) my manager to look for horses about 60kg early.”

While Kah and Ethan Brown drove tracks during their suspensions, Zahra took a different approach to his forced break from racing.

Zahra decided to leave Melbourne while only interested in what he was missing during the spring carnival.

“I thought if I stayed in Melbourne, it would make my head spin by watching all the races and that sort of thing,” Zahra said.

“I went straight to Byron Bay as soon as I could and I got a new little daughter so the three of us went up there.

“I just watched the big races this weekend, but other than that, I did not pay much interest.

“I just had family time enjoying my little daughter and eating, drinking and sleeping, which you don’t really get as a jockey.

“It was good to be normal for a while.”

Max Blakiston / Ian Rees Class 1 Handicap

Mark Zahra will ride on horses around the 60kg mark early in his comeback. Image: Racing Photos via Getty Images

Zahra decided to return to trackwork when he returned to Melbourne after spending a month in Los Angeles in the final stages of his suspension.

The Caulfield Cup-winning jockey said his fellow riders took the chance to sled him about his temporary weight at recent jumpouts.

But he looked forward to working his way to top fitness in the coming weeks.

“I put on about 63kg when I was free, so it’s not that bad for me,” Zahra said.

“I just have to ride and get back into the rhythm of being a jockey. I think if I ride more often when I get back into it, my weight will drop.

“The more races I have, the better I get, and the easier I can ride.”

TAB rated Zahra at a $ 6.50 chance to win at Bella Tiara in his first trip back in the Fields Of Omagh Plate (1400m).

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