If only the members of the Turf Club knew what they were unleashing during that meeting at Kirk’s horse bazaar (now Hardware Lane, off Bourke Street, Melbourne) that morning in 1862.
In 1861 they put on a bit of a race (won easily by nine lengths by a horse called Archer), and it was such a success that they thought they might make it a regular thing.
These days it is our most popular horse event of the year and millions of dollars are gambled on the outcome. The Melbourne Cup is held at Flemington Racecourse in Victoria, on the first Tuesday of November every year, as part of the spring racing carnival. I know it sounds like the people of Melbourne love their horse racing, and they do, just for now. Really, it is just an excuse for people to frock up, get drunk and have a bet. By the end of each event there are a lot of young ladies that are ‘tired and emotional’ and needing an arm to lean on, and a large amount of young men that have had far more to drink than is good for them. A combination bound for disaster!
The spring racing carnival is heaven for milliners, and if you are a real fashionista the chance to win the ‘fashions on the field’ competition will cause you to either spend a lot of money on a designer dress, or showcase your own masterpiece. You don’t even have to be going to an official spring carnival race to buy unnecessary frippery, as some country tracks run their own series of events.
Nearly every workplace will run a sweep where, for a token fee, you can reach into a box, draw the name of a participating horse that has been hastily scribbled onto a scrap of paper, then hope its exertions will mean a win for you. It doesn’t matter that most of us have never even heard of the horse on our bit of paper, it is just another tradition that usually even the most staunch non-gambler will join with happily.
The Melbourne Cup is marketed as the race that stops a nation. That is a bit of an overstatement actually. It is a selective public holiday and stops metropolitan and suburban Melbourne, but everyone else has to just go on with their normal day and watch the broadcast or listen to the radio at work. It just shows how Aussies will take any excuse to slack off though. We get the whole day off just for the time it takes some horses to thunder around two(ish) miles of track. Not only do we get the Tuesday off, most people take the Monday off as well. Since it is spring we can (usually wrongly) convince ourselves it is the start of good weather and those of us who care little for fashion or horse racing take Friday off too, make an extra long weekend of it, and go away. We will be following this tradition, so I apologize in advance if there is a break in my regular posts!
This article vainly hopes there will be less havoc among the cracks next time. Horsey publications in the 1850’s used the word crack to refer to ‘a racehorse of great excellence’. The word crack was also slang for a harlot or a soft-headed person. Either way, the gentlemen of the Turf Club would be disappointed to find out that all these years later there is still havoc in the stables, and, more famously, among the multitude of cracks in the crowd, and in the carpark, every year.