This week has a race that stops a nation, and I’m not talking about the Irish. No I’m talking about the Melbourne Cup. Despite living in Melbourne for the past 5 years I, nor anyone I've ever met, has drunk from this communal cup. I have however experienced the carnival that is built around it. The ‘Spring Carnival’ is a celebration of horse racing and gambling, fashion and hedonism, and despite its misleading name does not acknowledge the season of blossoming, cleaning and coils. Mostly it’s about horses, sometimes known as the ‘Dolphins of the Land’ for their ability to be trained, manipulated and eaten by humans. Just like Flipper and John West tuna, Mr Ed is watched on TV whilst Turkmenistani families tuck into a main course of horse.
I have always had an interest in horses. Not in that full blown, I-always-wear-jodhpurs- and-have-a-weird-nose-with-extreme-child-bearing-hips-Hi-my-name-is-Penelopi way. It has more to do with my allergy. I am so allergic to horses that if I come into contact with them, or anyone else who has, my eyes swell to flesh covered golf balls and my nose runs like a waterfall of phlegm. It’s probably the reason that I never had jockeys for friends. That and the fact that I can’t trust anyone who is a direct descendant of leprecons and talks like they are high on helium. My allergies are the reason I feel no sympathy about the equine flu outbreak. The way I look at it- it’s Karma.
Horse racing is filled with tradition and colour. The traditional names of horses once seemed strange, but now not so in the age celebrity baby names. This year a horse named Dolphin Jo ran in the cup, and coincidentally shares a name with the orphaned gypsy child Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt just adopted. Unlike other racist sports, like greyhound racing and scrabble, horse racing accepts horses of all colours.
There have been many famous horses in TV and racing from Mr Ed to Makybe Diva, but none have crossed over the two sectors like Phar Lap. First he won the public over with his feats on the racetrack before being immortalised in a feature film that was the highest grossing horse-based film in Australia upon its release, and today still holds that record.
Gambling on horses is an Australian tradition. I remember running illegal books at high school. I thought my operation was going to be shut down when the Principal approached me and said he heard what I was up too. I panicked trying to explain it was for a maths assignment and that I was merely exploring peoples interaction with randomisation based on fluctuating variables. He saw through me like a window at the Windex factory and proceeded to put a $5 each-way bet on Jezabeel.
Refusing immigration applications of foreigners is also an Australian tradition. When it comes to horses though, this tradition is thrown out the window. In spring there are more equine immigrants granted temporary visas than Sudanese refugees. In fact, it was recently reported that twin brothers from southern Sudan dressed in horse costume to get past Australia’s strict immigration laws. They would have been successful if it weren’t for the brother playing the rear end not been able to keep pace in the Group 2 race at Randwick they were entered in.
Horse racing is often called the sport of kings. This is incorrect- It’s actually adultery. But it’s a nice thought!