Start plan­ning for race that stops a nation

There’s only one place to be on the first Tues­day in Novem­ber, writes Ray Thomas

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - EXCITEMENT MELBOURNE CUP -

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.

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