Since the first race was held in 1861 the Melbourne Cup has been the single event that manages to stop the Nation from working. Productivity for that one hour in the lead up to the race drops as offices hold sweeps, bring out the bubbly, set up televisions. Most offices will give their staff the afternoon off so they can attend one of the many luncheons being held in every town in Australia. Women don their finery (estimated that a spend of over $50 million on fashion) as every woman has to have a designer dress, an elegant fascinator and shoes that you look at twice. Most women I would bet have no idea about the horses at all.
Once dolled up you attend one of these many functions. Those inside the barricade were served canapes and champagne (estimated that 25 million swimming pools of alcohol are consumed between breakfast and dinner on cup day). Outside were the plebs who either had to work, were tourists to town (this was the capacity we were in) or couldn’t afford the extremely high prices for being inside the enclosure.
Betting is essential (from 2015 statistics 1.5 billion dollars during the Spring carnival). I stopped betting when I won a small amount and never bothered to go and collect the winnings. If a sweep is going, however, I will join in that. All the newspapers have sections devoted to the race and print colourful squares with the jockey’s pictures in the colours they will be wearing and sweep forms making running a sweep a simple procedure.
The race is run on the first Tuesday in November at 3pm (2pm in Queensland as we don’t have daylight saving thus protecting our curtains from fading). Because everybody has a horse they are barracking for (due to the betting) the tension is palpable. It is a race for 3 year olds and over and is run over 3,200 metres at Flemington Race course in Melbourne. It is Australia’s most prestigious race and is the richest two mile handicap in the world (probably because 99 % of Australia bet on it).
The crowd gathers.
All eyes are glued to the big screen ….Waiting except for
the pigeons that think all their Christmases have come at once with the extra food droppings all these people are generating.
Just before the race starts the man in the walker starts throwing his empty coffee cup at a man that stood in front of him, a second later he threw a bag of rubbish at another man who did not take to kindly tomato sauce remains on the back of his shirt. But
if access to the screen is blocked tempers can flare. A lot can be riding on this race. Finally it starts. The fellow in the walker shouldn’t have bothered as those in the enclosure in their excitement stood and I imagine totally blocked his view.
A horse won. I don’t know and don’t particularly care which but Roger told me it was a very exciting race. Some were excited – certainly the winner would have been with a prize of 6.2 million dollars. (They pay around 45,000 to enter this race and they have to qualify by entry in 4 other earlier races, also with hefty entry fees.
I’m afraid I am one of the less than 10% who doesn’t get carried away by this race that stops the nation and joins us in a nationalism that celebrates alcohol and gambling and I wonder what international visitors think when suddenly everyone is standing glued to a television.