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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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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