The breaks

Interesting day yesterday. Quite notable in a number of ways.

It started off not so good. I woke up to a feeling of despair. The situation has been preying on my mind. Every day that goes by I’m closer to tipping over the edge. I feel largely helpless, as if I’m in a barrel that is bobbing along getting ever nearer to the tumbling falls.

Like so often I wracked my mind for a solution. I have tried so many things, but to little or no avail. On Monday night I was shot with it. I just wanted it to be over. Sleep comes as a comfort. But then I wake and it’s there again.

Yesterday was different in that it was Melbourne Cup day – a holiday – and I was going to the cup. That at least was something I could look forward to.

I was a late call-up. Donna was going to her usual Melbourne Cup day function at Flemington. She’d heard that their cook for the day – the person who mans the BBQ – couldn’t make it. Since I’m handy with a pair of tongs in my hand she recommended me. And so there I was, heading for the course and a day out for no more than the price of a train ticket. Free food, free booze, some carefree company, and all for the price of cooking up some cutlets, etc.

It was good to dress up again, to join the throng, and be part of the event again. That’s one of the things you miss. It’s so rare that I feel normal. I watch people go about their daily life and 99% of the time feel separate from them. Yesterday I could feel a part of society again. I felt normal.

It was a good day. The cooking was no great hardship – I actually enjoy cooking on the barbie. The weather was perfect, the people friendly, the atmosphere celebratory.

I had no money to spend but for a few dollars I had left in an old betting account. I had to be selective with my betting, and much more prudent with my spending than I’m used to. I didn’t bet on most races, and when I did I often went the exotics.

Come the Cup I was about square with the card. I put money on Trip to Paris to win, with a saver on Prince of Penzance – a rank outsider. I took out a trifecta as well, putting 5 horses into it. Then the race began.

It takes a while to develop and then it happens all at once. When they went past the post I didn’t know what had won. A moment later someone said it was Prince of Penzance – and I had won $600.

As it turned out I could have had the trifecta too – it paid $20K, and I had first, second and fourth.

It gives you a bit of a skip in your step when you win something like that. On a more practical level it also gave me some hope. There’s symbolism in winning – when you’re losing everything an unexpected win takes on a meaning beyond that of a few extra dollars in your pocket. Is it a sign, a portent of a turning tide?

More relevantly, it meant that I was $600 closer to paying my rent. I’m still about $500 short, but that’s easier to manage. Another $600 on top of that and I can pay my bills too, but one shouldn’t be greedy.

While I was there something else significant occurred. The phone rang and a woman with an Asian American voice wanted to conduct a short interview with me about a job I had applied for. It was not ideal timing. I had a beer in my hand (my third), and was about to get cooking again. It was noisy about me, and the vibe distinctly un-businessy.

I mentioned that I was at the races, but it seemed to go over her head. I couldn’t say no to her, and so went through the process.

It’s funny how hard it is to get your head around such things when the vibe is so different. I was straining to hear her over the background noise, and struggled to think to think or articulate proper answers to her questions. I felt as if I was waffling on with meaningless platitudes, but it was sufficiently impressive for her to book an interview for me this Friday.

This is very positive also, and a rare development these days – an actual fucking interview! Weird, huh?

So, not only do I win $600 yesterday, I also score an interview. The day had started out bad, but was ending up fine.

We left a little before 7. The train was a happy place. I know the Melbourne Cup is notorious for many things, but yesterday I saw a lot of things that reminded me why I like Aussies so much – the humour, the easy camaraderie, the joy in the occasion, and sheer life.

There was a group on the train who had obviously had a good day. They began singing, and then others in the carriage joined in. It reminded me of how we were like that, the years we’d start belting out Singing in the Rain while others looked at us with benevolent, good natured smiles. And how eventually the whole carriage would join in.

Donna and I ended up at the Arbory bar at Flinders Street station. We had a cold drink looking out over the river. There we bumped into some of our colleagues from the races and shared another laugh. I went to sleep last night much more hopeful than I had 24 hours before.

A nostril in it

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

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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.



Another year, another Melbourne Cup

It’s Melbourne Cup day, and this year I’m spending it at home, and glad to.

It’s a great day nonetheless. I read a piece earlier where someone described the Melbourne Cup on-course as being like schoolies for adults, and that’s pretty accurate I reckon. I’ve had my share of that, perhaps even more than my share – I reckon I’ve been to somewhere between 15-20 Cups over the years as both child and adult, from the members enclosure, to the public area, and to a variety of private enclosures and marquees (though not yet the Emirates or Myer yet – hint). I’ve experienced the Cup in all it’s permutations, rain and shine, winning and losing, sober and not so sober, and so on. Great event, but I’m a little over it for the minute.

Of course it’s a holiday here, and feels like one whether you’re at the races or not. It’s an overcast, cool day, but that counts for little. I’ve had a bet and won $25 already. The barbie is fired up for Rigby and I to enjoy, and later when I have a guest I’ll crack a bottle and watch the big race in earnest.

For the record I’m on At First Sight this year. Reckon there are about 6 real contenders – Americain, Jukebox Jerry, Dunaden, Niwot, Lucas Cranach, and probably a couple of others. My smoky is Modun. So, I’m on for the win, the trifecta, and the first 4 – all of which I got last year. I’ve got a good record in this race winning much more often than I lose, but what happened before counts for little. We’ll know in a few hours time.

Phar Lap winning the Melbourne Cup Race from S...

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Reason to celebrate

Melbourne Cup Day 2007Image by awmalloy via Flickr

It's quite an adjustment travelling from the fields and cities of Cambodia hot as hades and wearing shorts and thongs every day for two weeks to Flemington at Melbourne Cup time. There I become civilised again in a manner of speaking, smartly dressed, sipping bubbles and snacking on canapes in a world much cooler and a sky much greyer than what I've been accustomed.

Still the transition was not so difficult – the transition to the office today has been much more difficult. It's easy after all – what hardship is there in drinking French champagne. And it is familiar – Flemington is the scene of many a past debauch for me. It was easier still when I won.

I did nothing early and wasn't fussed at it – the day is all about fun, winning is a bonus. Then I picked up a winner leading into the Cup. To that point the day had been a mix of heavy rain and brilliant sunshine. When the clouds parted steam could be seen rising from the ground.

For some reason my thinking on the Cup had undergone a small change through the morning. A couple of horses I'd favoured – Descarado and Precedence – I now sacked. I felt So You Think would be thereabouts, but I doubted now that he would win. Watching the rain fall I became utterly convinced that the French horse Americain would win, and said so.

I didn't back it, naturally. In fact I didn't back any horse outright. I'd put on a quinella before leaving home earlier and now I put on a trifecta at the course. Then as the rain cleared I stood to watch the big race unfold.

As it turns out it was a pretty good race. At a certain stage So You Think looked like it might win, but then I think the race was 300 metres too long for it and it got passed by one and then another horse. Naturally enough the horse that won was Americain.

I knew I had the quinella and the trifecta, and as I looked further realised I'd actually picked the first four runners. Zipping, that great old champion and a personal favourite had kept on keeping on to come in fourth. I was satisfied, happy, more so when I saw the dividends. I made about $4,000 on the race  – then managed to get a collect in the final two races as an added bonus.

That's how a race day should be.

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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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