A nostril in it

Engraving of the finish line at the 1881 Melbo...

Image via Wikipedia

For most of the year I take but a cursory interest in horse racing. Come the Spring Carnival in Melbourne that changes. I’m still very much a mug punter, but I begin to take a keen interest as one big race after rolls on, and the incredible vibe builds. There is nowhere else in the world that can rival the excitement, intrigue and glamour of Melbourne during the Spring racing season.

There are a succession of great races, but the big race is the Melbourne Cup, which may well be the biggest horse race in the world now Everyone has a tip. Everyone’s in a sweep. If you’re not at the race you’re at a barbecue somewhere. Everyone is glued to the screen. Then the race begins, the crowd roars, and for a few minutes everything stops. Being at the course and watching it there is an unusual experience as everyone is transfixed by the race and their chance in it. Every moment or so someone will urge on their horse, and come the turn the urging has become a roar. It’s like riding a wave, magnificent. It’s a race that truly does stop the nation.

After watching the race today I was greatly stirred, as everyone must have been. Big race, great occasion, and a ripping finish. All fantastic ingredients. What makes horse racing different from most sports though is the horses. In most sports we are fiercely partisan, sometimes to the point of hostility to the opposition. That’s impossible with horse racing because the real glory of it is the horses. Your horse may not get up, but it’s hard not be moved all the same by the contest. These are magnificent beasts who know nothing better than to compete. They are beautiful things that command our admiration, but they are also pure instinct. They don’t race for prize money. They race because it is their great joy to do so. To stretch to the line is something innate within them. There are days we might lose our shirt, but regardless we are privileged mostly to have witnessed something so natural and real.

Such was the case today. It was a wonderful race. Come 50 metres out there were perhaps five horses in the running, with two nose to nose out front. Come the finish line there was virtually nothing to separate them. Remarkable to think that after 3,200 metres the winning margin might be as small as the width of my finger. It seems unfair to relegate one horse to second on that margin, but that’s the sport.

Dunaden won it from Red Cadeaux. It was a great win because it led, was headed, then came again. A tough win at the hands of a great riding performance. The jockey, Christophe Lemaire, had flown in yesterday from Japan to ride the horse after it’s normal jockey, Craig Williams, was suspended for the race. There were many expressions of sympathy for Williams after the race, and that’s easy to understand why, however had he ridden Dunaden instead of Lemaire it’s a different race, and more than likely a different result.

For the second year running a French horse won it, from an English horse, and a bunch of international horses close behind. English horses have won it before, and one year Japan took the quinella. Occasionally there is some comment about the ‘international raiders’, but it’s a great thing they come, and their success makes the race greater. It’s a challenge for Australian breeders to come up with a champion stayer. Being parochial does the race no good; it’s a challenge to be grasped. Thing is too, end of the day, they’re just horses, beautiful things who know no allegiance, who care where they come from?

My pick came about 6th I think. I went the trifecta, and had 1st, 3rd and 4th, but that doesn’t pay. Next year. Great race anyway, and a great occasion. Lucky here in Melbourne.



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