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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Living it up


Melbourne CupImage via Wikipedia

Much to share, no time to share it.

I'm sitting here at my desk with the sun shining outside and a headache splitting my head bi-laterally. It's almost 5pm, yikes, and at some point soon I have to have a shower and dress before the publisher gets here. We're off to a book launch tonight, Jeremy Oliver's Wine Guide 2010. There'll plenty of wine tasting naturally, good food, the wine of the year will be wheeled out and a good time will be had by all. You know I'm always up for a good time.

Notwithstanding a visit to the dentist yesterday, good times are abounding at the moment. It's that time of year, Spring, the weather improves, the sun comes out, Christmas is really only a hop, skip and a jump distant, and all the winter stuff is behind us. On top of that here in Melbourne is the Spring Racing Carnival. That's a pretty big deal.

I'm off on Saturday to the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, and will be attending the Melbourne Cup just over a week later. I'm going plush this year, catered affairs with all laid on, pretty girls in their best frock and waering the annual fascinator, boys like me in the funky suit and tie. I'm even wearing a hat.

In the meantime the same old stuff – dinners, drinks, book launches and sundry celebrations.

Now I have to have my shower.

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You are what you wear


I went clothes shopping yesterday with JV. We're off to the Cox Plate next Saturday, and we both decided we could do with a new suit for the event.

We caught up a little after lunch and finished up an hour or so before dinner, and criss-crossed the CBD in search of the perfect racing suit: well made but just a touch funky. Just about everywhere we looked had a sale going, and there were some decent suits amongst it all. JV ended up with a pale grey Saba suit with thin lapels and narrow legged trousers – he looks like a sharpie.

I went more elegant. I found a Ted Baker suit with $300 off and thought was the go. It's navy blue so pretty conventional (though every bloke should have a navy suit), but with a subtle purple and lighter blue stripe through it. It might sound a little lairy but it's not at all – it's a very well made, very comfortable, very stylish piece of menswear. And I'm very happy, notwithstanding the fact it needs to get altered.

I've got a non-conventional body shape – I have broad shoulders but am slimmer in the hips, which generally means I'll mix a 46 jacket with 34 pants if I can get away with it. Unfortunately that was not possible yesterday, so the paints need to be taken in and shortened.

I've actually been wondering lately if I should be updating my wardrobe. I'm older than I used to be, though I don't really feel older. All the same, it's undeniable. I've pretty well been dressing in the same style for the last 20 odd years. I've never really thought about it until a few days ago. Then I caught myself. For once I noticed how some other men of my age are dressing, which is generally more conservative than me. Fuck me dead I thought, am I meant to be like that?

Everyone knows the mutton dressed up as lamb syndrome. You have to admire their optimism and determination, but it's no fun beholding a 70 year old woman dressed like a 20 year old. Now I'm not 70, not even close, and my style is vaguely timeless – jeans mostly, a t-shirt often, or a decent shirt or a jumper depending on the weather, and often paired with a coat or jacket of some description. If I'm going out I combine my best pair of dark jeans with a good pair of shoes, a sharp shirt and a sports jacket.I like clothes and I think I have good taste in general, but at what point do you consider dressing 'older'?

As much as anything this is a philosophical question. My generation in general is more relaxed and casual. Sure there are lots who get around in cords or chinos and won't go out without a sports jacket, even if it's just to do the grocery shopping. I can't see myself in cords, and I'd die rather than wear chinos – they're the fashion equivalent of beige (ok, ok, once or twice I paired up a pair of chinos with a polo shirt when I was consulting in Brisbane – a uniform up there).

Most of my friends have varying styles, but all have pretty well the same mindset as me: we dress for comfort mixed with style, and haven't changed much since we were 22. So, should I be thinking different?

I reckon if my circumstances were different maybe I would, oblivious of it almost. Yet it doesn't sit comfortably with me. I can't help but think the day I start wearing cords is the day I give up trying. It may seem a long bow, but in part it's this very question that had a lot to do with me cancelling that date last night.

Self image. Everyone has one, and I dare say for most people how they see themselves is different to how other people see them. Does that matter? Not really. Sure, many people dress to impress, and I'll be looking to do that in my new suit on Saturday, but ultimately you have limited control over how other people see you. Bottom line, you have to please yourself. If you're not happy in yourself then nothing else is going to happen.

Me, I've got healthy self image, if that wasn't already clear. I see myself a certain way, and it's important to me to hold true to certain principles to maintain that self-image. While pulling on pair of cords* might seem small beer in the fashion stakes, it is indicative to me of another state of mind. Now I'm not and I don't want to be conservative, safe or inoffensive. I don't intend to be wild, but nor do I want to lose my edge, whatever that is.

I'll look to refine my style and perhaps to take it to another level, but whatever I do it has to be in sync with how I feel. And there in those few words is the reason I called it quits last night. I didn't feel comfortable with who I was asked to be and so graciously backed out.

*I don't hate cord – I've worn it before and probably will again, it's just not who I am right now.

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