It’s just an old horse race, right? There are plenty of races run every day, and plenty of different types of sports where a rider and beast will go run some rings around a grass oval for the purpose of sport. So what on earth is it about the Melbourne Cup that captivates the entire attention of the Australian people? Is it the fact that it only comes around once a year? Is it the fact that you have carte blanche to stop whatever it is that you’re doing on Melbourne Cup day and spend the time that it takes the horses and their passengers to cut a lap around Flemington, glued to the TV? Perhaps it’s the carnival-like atmosphere that settles over Melbourne in the weeks leading up to the beginning of November? Who knows – but whatever the intrigue is, it’s certainly effective.
Ask any Australian about the most famous horse race they know and unless they’re a complete equestrian-freak and have an obscure race that’s their favourite, they’re going to say that it’s the Melbourne Cup. Kids are given the afternoon off school for half an hour to watch the race being run, workers in offices are allowed to huddle around a TV screen and watch the race, and sweeps are drawn up around the nation as people secretly hope that their horse and jockey combo runs the fastest, and that they win the bottle of cheap bubbly that invariably accompanies such betting competitions.
In the lead up to Melbourne cup, there is an anticipatory vibe that begins to build as people tan, lacquer and preen their bodies so that they look their very best. The streets around Flemington throng with well heeled racegoers as race day arrives, and the Birdcage overflows with finely-feathered and frilled women, and sharp-suited men jockeying (sorry – terrible pun) for prime position next to whichever celebrity has been trotted out to endorse and lend some kudos to the race.
There are, of course, the eponymous lawn-dwelling racegoers too – often the subject of some ridicule by the Melbourne, Australian and even international media who seek to demonstrate the great divide between the couth and the not-so-couth. Regardless, the fun is had in droves, and the racegoers can all agree that this certainly is one of the most glorious spectacles to be part of in the Australian racing scene. You don’t even have to be a huge racing aficionado in order to appreciate the fun to be had on Melbourne Cup. Plus with any luck – just by attending – you might be luck enough to see Geoffrey Edelstein proposing to his latest squeeze on the pavement.
Steeped in history, the Melbourne Cup has played host to some of the most glorious race horses in the world and it is a fiercely contested battle that is fought by jockeys who have all but starved themselves in the lead up to be the lightest they can be. We have watched transfixed as Makybe Diva ran to victory two years in the running, and saw (horse) and (horse) battle it out for the glorious cup.
Of course, the race is not without its controversies and the 2014 Melbourne Cup sadly saw two horses lose their lives due to injury and accident. This kind of loss cannot be ignored, and it is an ongoing part of the Melbourne Cup’s dedication to the sport to figure out how to make this a safe and enjoyable activity for everyone involved – both man and beast – to ensure that the race can continue on for generations to come. It will take a concerted effort on the part of the racegoers and the committees to ensure that the spirit of the race lives on throughout the ages, but it’s definitely worth it.