Considering Australia’s top three heroes are a cricketer, a bushranger and a racehorse, perhaps it is fitting the only time the nation stops, as one, is to have a wager on what some say is a dubious sporting pastime.
Despite recent controversies around greyhound racing and gambling, the Melbourne Cup festivities still warrant much excitement with over 90,000 attending the race in Melbourne each year.
The origins of ‘The Cup’ can be traced back to the discovery of gold in 1853, which led to a huge influx of risk-takers and – dare-we-say – gamblers to Australia’s shores. If the miners struck it lucky on the goldfields, they would often head for the track to see if the luck would continue.
The Victoria Turf Club staged the first Melbourne Cup in 1861. By 1866, the government had proclaimed the day a public holiday. To make life difficult for punters, the race is run over the unusually long distance of 3200m, it may have up to 30 starters and the favoured horses are handicapped with extra weight.
Although knowledge of the form is still a prerequisite to talk like a guru at pre-race functions, the many variables make picking a winner a case of pinning the tail of the donkey.
Many people say the most successful method seems to be whether it has a good name or not. With the exception of Kiwi(which evokes sheep) all winners have had impressive names like Phar Lap, Black Knight or Vintage Crop.
The fact that the Cup is such a lottery has helped it gain popularity amongst those with no interest in racing. There is a certain charm associated with seeing a guru who has studied the form all year, grimly stewing, as some novice gloats about how she picked the winner only because she thought the name was funny.
The Melbourne Cup is more than just a horse race; it is also one of the few special times Australians celebrate style.
In a land of the Ugg Boot, cork hat, thongs and shorts, world renowned designers rarely seek their inspiration with a trip Down Under.
But on that first Tuesday in November, the dark clouds part and the elegant ladies come out to shine. Not to mention the recent influx of international celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Eva Longoria and even Snoop Dogg.
Although it is only a public holiday in Victoria, around the country bosses stop work and use the day as a team-building exercise. There is usually a sweep, a prize for the best hat and a drink or two.
King Street Wharf on Sydney’s waterfront offers a host of pre-lunch events as well as post-race after-parties at its fifteen bar and restaurant venues.
For those looking to enjoy a little flutter, a mobile TAB Van will be on the promenade in between Hulu at King Street Wharf and All Hands Brewing House. Show ponies and fashionistas can strike up a pose and take selfies on the Melbourne Cup podium next to the van.