Knowing Melbourne – The Melbourne Cup

Ahhh the first Tuesday in November is a big day on the Melbourne Calendar – it is the day of the world famous horse race – ‘The Melbourne Cup’. This race is the premier horse race in Australia, it is known as the race that ‘stops a nation’, and would you believe it… it’s a public holiday. And as it’s a Tuesday, a lot of Victorians take the opportunity to make it an extra long weekend and take the Monday off as well, although it is not officially a public holiday, only the Tuesday.

Yes, as this post gets published I am somewhere in Central Asia (touchwood all things going smoothly) but as I lay thinking of things I could write about before I left, the Melbourne Cup sprang to mind.

The thing is, I don’t really like horse racing. But the Melbourne Cup is an integral part of the town that is Melbourne, and it’s a really big event. This year they organised for Taylor Swift to perform there. And then she backed out. Who knows why.

But people flock to the Flemington racecourse in their thousands, or even hundreds of thousands. Spring in Melbourne means the ‘Spring Racing Carnival’ and there is a constant stream of racing meets throughout the months of September to November including the Caulfield Cup, Oaks Day and of course, the Melbourne Cup. The races are a real event in Australia and it is tradition for people to get really dressed up to go, and then get blind drunk, waste money on bets and probably throw up and pass out by the end of the day.

And the ultimate in Spring is to do that at the Melbourne Cup. The Cup has had some famous winners – Phar Lap is regarded, in Australia at the very least, as the greatest race horse ever. He apparently had a heart that was significantly bigger that the average. His embalmed body can be seen in the Melbourne Museum if you visit – and he sure was a big horse! Famously left Australia to race in the USA and died, apparently poisoned!

Other famous winners include Let’s Elope and Makybe Diva, who won three times in a row. Four years ago Michelle Payne became the first female jockey ever to win the cup on Prince of Penzance. There’s a pretty decent Australian movie about her story out at the moment called ‘Ride Like a Girl’ which I saw recently and it’s a pretty good story of persistence and over coming the odds.

The thing is, you can almost be sure that every year at least one horse won’t survive the race. Since 2013 six horses have died as a result of racing in the Melbourne Cup. Usually it’s due to a broken bone, and for whatever reason being put down is seen as the only option. Of course, the number over the whole Spring Carnival is much higher. And then there have been, just over the last month or so, revelations of (sadly more) horse cruelty in the stables of the trainers and owners. I’m not saying every trainer is cruel, but I find it hard to see as anything other than an indictment on the sport.

Add to that the constant betting advertising we can’t get away from. Through the football season Melbournites are bombarded with adverts on TV, billboards, radio, online and especially plastered around the grounds, but in Spring all that becomes about the horse racing, and there seems to be no limit on how much and how often we see it. And at the end of the adverts they always say ‘Please gamble responsibly’ as if that disavows them from any responsibility of the damage that gambling can do to peoples’ live. And besides, how does one ‘gamble responsibly’?


Anyways, sorry that this turn out to be so political. The flood gates really opened there. If you’re in Melbourne during early November, the Melbourne Cup is a celebration of colour, and a real, big ‘event’. And if you were to have a small wager on a horse in the Cup, or enter a sweep, that surely is ‘responsible gambling’. Hope you are well wherever this post finds you! And… May the Journey Never End!

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