Start planning for race that stops a nation
There’s only one place to be on the first Tuesday in November, writes Ray Thomas
FOR Australians, it is almost a rite of passage to go to the Melbourne Cup at least once.
It’s one of those bucket-list items – like walking over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, climbing Uluru, sailing through the Great Barrier Reef . . . The magnetism of the Melbourne Cup is extraordinary.
It is more than just a horse race. It is revered as a sporting, social and cultural event that has played a significant role in defining a young nation. In 1895, American writer Mark Twain came to the Melbourne Cup and remarked: ‘‘ Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me.’’
Those sentiments remain the same to this day, even as Flemington’s Melbourne Cup Carnival of four race meetings spread over eight days has grown to become one of the world’s great sporting extravaganzas.
On that first Tuesday in November, the race truly does stop the nation.
Everyone from hardened professional punters to those who only bet once a year become engrossed in a 3200m handicap that is unlike any other horse race.
You don’t have to back the winner, either, to enjoy the Melbourne Cup. Just to be in the Victorian capital for Cup week is an unforgettable experience.
Melbourne is a vibrant, multicultural city and is renowned for the way it embraces major sporting events. Think of the AFL grand final, the Australian Formula One Grand Prix, Australian Open Tennis and MCG Test cricket. But these are overshadowed by the Melbourne Cup, where crowds of more than 100,000 attend Flemington for each of the four race days.
As a racing journalist, I’ve been to every Melbourne Cup since 1994.
I’ve seen Makybe Diva’s unique treble in 2003-04-05, the emotion of Damien Oliver’s 2002 win on Media Puzzle just days after his brother Jason was killed in a race fall, and one of the greatest Australians of them all, the legendary Bart Cummings, win his 10th, 11th and 12th Melbourne Cups.
They have been some of the great moments in Australian sport and it is certain another unforgettable chapter in the race’s history will be written this November at the 150th running of the Melbourne Cup.
So, if this is your year, here are some tips that might help you enjoy the experience even more.
Try to get to Melbourne on the Friday before the big race.
Be warned, accommodation is at a premium and most hotels increase their room rates, but there is a wide range to suit most budgets.