The great race


I'm off to the Cup today. This must be about the 15th I've attended as child and adult, maybe more. This time around I was reluctant to attend despite it being the 150th running, and the probability that this is the best field to ever start. I agreed to attend as a favour, grumbling as I did so, preferring, I thought, to spend the day quietly planting my summer tomatoes and getting over my jet lag.

Now I'm sitting here at my desk fully kitted up – suit, tie, cufflinks and freshly polished shoes – and I'm more positive towards the day. It's special after all, if not the most special day of racing worldwide – that's probably Derby Day – then it is certainly the most extravagant race in the world today.

I'll enjoy all the usual festivities, have a flutter or two, get stuck into the bubbles and have the odd nibble. Somewhere along the line I'll likely have a flirt or two with some of the racy fillies attending, dressed up to the nines and in a party mood.

There is an additional appeal today in watching the much acclaimed So You Think take on the field. I watched last year at Moonee Valley as it turned on the after-burners to clean up a smart field in the Cox Plate. I thought it was a pretty special horse after that. This year has been better. While I was away it won the Cox Plate again going away, and on Saturday easily won the Mackinnon. It comes into the Cup today after winning five on the trot. Can it go the distance? That's the question.

I don't think I'll be backing it – too short for me – but I hope it wins. That's the great thing about the Melbourne Cup. It is the prover of horses. So often talnt must overcome adversity to win. More often than not it means class must be matched by courage. It means sometimes that an outsider will win, aided by the handicappers weights, but mostly i's a pretty decent horse that gets up.

That's what people want to see. Australians like to see the underdogs prevail. or at least give a good show, in just about every sport. Horse racing is slightly different. We like to see the champions win. To hear the whoof of the crowd as the favourite looms on the straight is spine tingling. To stand amongst them as they acclaim a champion such as Makybe Dive, Might and Power, Northerly, Octagonal, and so on, is an affirmation of the hope people hold inside them. It's a kind of love, and to see these mighty horses win is the proof of that love.

So You Think may be near the best of them. If it wins today it's an out and out champion. It's had done great in 11 starts, but this is more. We mau be seeing the dawning of a great equine career – I think we are – and it would be nice to be there to see it win for wily old Bart today.

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And now I know


MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 24: Jockey Gle...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Predictably weary after a long day at the track yesterday. It was a beautiful day, perfect weather almost, marred by the fact that I now have a face that looks like a stop sign. Too much sun, but that's not really I should complain about. It was a fun day which would have been 'funner' had we a few more winners.

In fact I only score two second placings on the day, though at long enough odds that they provided a nice return. Had they been an extra metre forward I would have made close to $400, but not to be. Like so many sports horse-racing is a game of inches (or centimetres). 

There were three of us, JV, Donna and myself, all dressed up in our best clobber, casting an eye on the fashions on the field parade between (and sometimes during) races, picking at the passing platters of sausage rolls and mini-hot dogs, race-paper rolls, prawns and nori rolls. 

Each race JV and I would go to the rail to watch the race while Donna stayed in the enclosure. We were in the centre of the track in one of the corporate areas. Each race we would come away cursing some bad luck or a poor run, JV particularly, who bet much more extravagantly than me, and consequently lost a lot more than me. Then the big race came along.

As so many occasions with the Cox Plate it turned into a remarkable race. In the past many have become famous with close finishes and with backmarkers coming from a long way behind to flash home. Well this race was pretty well the opposite of this.

For pure competition there was little to get excited about – the winner won by about 4 lengths. And the backmarkers stayed where they were, with the two first places going to the horses who had led out of the gate. In fact that's one of the things that made it remarkable. It's rare to see a horse lead all the way. Many race followers will grown when their horse goes to the lead too soon, believing that they've blown it. Well yesterday the youngest horse in the race went directly to the lead and 2040 metres later was still there.

It was a strange race to watch. So You Think loped around in the lead, at one stage about 7 lengths in front of the third runner and 4 lengths in front of second. By the home turn the field had come together and it looked likely the two brave front runners might be swallowed up – but no.

Once more they went to the lead, making ground on the following pack before So You Think galloped away with it, his jockey, the great Glen Boss, standing tall in the saddle and waving his whip in the air as he passed the winning post.

It was a great ride, and Boss has a great record in the big races. He's a winning jockey, and it brought home to me afterwards a couple of truths I should have considered. My grandmother, a keen and very astute race follower would always say never to bet against 'Black' Bart Cummings (as she called him) in the cups. It's a rule I've generally followed since (though not always on the right Cummings horse). Glen Boss is another example of someone who does his best work in the big races. In combination they should be unbeatable – and they were.

I wrote yesterday that the Cox Plate is invariably won by great horses. I was sceptical that would be the case this year as the field seemed ordinary. I'm confident I was right now though. I think So You Think will be an absolute beauty. Watching him parade before the race I murmured something to JV about what a beautiful horse he is. Big and dark, and very leggy, and distinctly different from the other horses. He'll grow more, and he'll get better.

Strange you know, he actually reminded me of Rigby! There was that same uninhibited joy in racing around the track as what Rigby has around the house. So You Think looks and raced like a colt yesterday, but a mighty fine one. All he wanted to do was run it seemed, and run with the exuberance of a kid. Boss wisely gave it its head and the result was a famous win in a time second only to the great Might and Power.

I did my dough but I was content enough with that. Like most Australians I think Bart Cummings is a national treasure, as well as being some kind of genius. And in So You Think we saw a new star born. Watch him go now. Hard to see him losing in this race next year, and in time he'll be a special for the longer cups. I think he might be one of the greats of the race track.

So that was that. At the end of a long day Donna left us and JV and I moseyed in towards the city. We had intended to check out the soccer, but chose not to. Instead we had a beer at Fed Square and then a 4 course dinner at Bok Choy Tang overlooking the city.

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