November has raced along and three weeks have passed since my last post. So much for my resolution to post every week. All the same, I have been involved in writing related projects for much of that time, so there has not been a complete absence of effort on my part.
November started on a racing theme. The first Tuesday in the month is the day for horse galloping, the day the Melbourne Cup is run and won. Australians call it the race that stops a nation. It’s true. If you live in Melbourne, you get the day off work. (At least you did – in the days before 24/7 and casualisation entered our workplace language). Even if you are at work, everything comes to a halt for the five minutes either side of 3 pm. That applies even if you work in a (domestic) call centre or customer service. You know the telephones won’t ring, because all around the nation, everyone else is doing exactly the same thing.
The first cup was run in 1861, before our young nation was even a hundred years old. In 1895, the American writer Mark Twain attended, later commenting: “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“.
You don’t have to know anything about horses or racing to get caught up in the buzz. If you want to have a bet, but don’t know who to choose, there is always a sweep available – like a lucky dip – and good on you if your horse runs in the first three places, even if you never heard its name before then. Most of all – for us ‘also rans’ – it is a good excuse to get glammed up, pop a few corks, eat a feast, and generally get in the party spirit.
The Melbourne Cup is conducted by the Victoria Racing Club and run at Flemington race-course. The first time I saw that course, I thought the horses were running the wrong way, because the track is set up anti-clockwise. It doesn’t seem to bother the horses though, and for the Melbourne Cup, they have plenty of time to get used to it. It is a long race that takes well over three minutes to complete. If your horse is leading at the outset, you may as well destroy your ticket then and there, because only the best stayers make it across the line first.
I am indebted to the font of all knowledge – Wikipedia – for a few facts to share with my international readers. The Melbourne Cup is a “3,200 metre / (two mile) race, for three-year-olds and over, and is the richest handicap race of that distance in the world”. I am not sure if that last part is correct, but it is certainly the richest in Australia, and the prize money has attracted much international interest in the last decade. A$6,200,000 worth of attraction for this year. At least half of that is riding on first place.
24 horses compete the Melbourne Cup, and some office sweeps pay a return for the horse who runs last. This year however, it was difficult to determine exactly which horse ran last. Ruscello passed the finishing post last, however one horse broke down at around the 2000m mark and did not complete. Amidst all the cheering for the first female trainer (Gai Waterhouse) to have ever had a cup winner, attention was distracted from the course, where tell-tale green curtains had been set up on the track around Verema. She had broken a major leg bone, and sadly, she was euthanised on veterinary advice.
I have never heard of this happening in the Melbourne Cup previously, and could not find anything on the internet in that regard. However, I note that Verema’s death has sparked a flurry of discussion around horse racing and animal cruelty, and it is not my intention to enter into a debate about that in this blogpost. I do not know enough about horses and the industry to offer any thoughtful opinion.
However, I would just like to spare a thought for all those involved.
Many years ago, when working in international freight forwarding, I applied for a job with one of the companies specialising in moving animals around the world. I have some inkling of the stress and effort involved in bringing a champion mare such a distance to compete. It is not a decision that is taken lightly, even if your owner is the Aga Khan, as was Verema’s. It was his first tilt at the Melbourne Cup. She was trained in Chantilly, France by Alain de Royer-Dupre, who won the 2010 cup with Americain. Her jockey was Christophe Lemaire, who won the 2011 Melbourne Cup on another French import – Dunaden. Can you imagine how gutted they must have felt, as Christophe Lemaire trudged through the mounting yard with Verema’s bridle in hand. They, and many other unnamed connections – Verema’s strapper for example – are no doubt mourning the devastating death. How sad for them all.
As for us at our party – we were too busy cheering the outcome and querying who won what to know what had happened until the next day. I wonder whether we will think on it as we turn up for next year’s event? I leave you with a few photos of my glamorous neighbours. I did my best to tart up as well as they, but luckily, no one took my photo 🙂
Happy Thanksgiving to my North American followers……….
Garrulous Gwendoline, Wollongong 29th November 2013