It’s hard to think of any sporting spectacle where a big city – of four million people in Melbourne’s case – comes to a standstill for an entire day. Some people might not watch racing for the rest of the year, but the Melbourne Cup has rich tradition and it’s a privilege for those spectators to be at the race course watching the action unfold.
Around the province of Victoria, workers receive a public holiday for Melbourne Cup day with most either turning out at Flemington for the race or opting to watch it live on Channel 7.
They call it the race that stops the nation as nearly 90 per cent of Australians – remember this is a country of 25 million – stop for three minutes to watch the showpiece race at 3pm. In this edition, fans had plenty to cheer about as an Australian-trained horse, Almandin, pipped Heartbreak City to win the 156th Melbourne Cup.
Following the race, one of the many unique stories emanating from Flemington was the presence of Lloyd Williams. The Australian businessman is the owner of Almandin and the most successful owner in the history of the Melbourne Cup – with a record five victories.
Williams hadn’t been at the race course since 1996, instead choosing to watch sport at home, where his son Nick is the face of the racing operation.
“Winning this race means more than building businesses,” he said in his post-race conference.
“I’m now 76 years as a Melbournian. From the age of five, I listened to the Melbourne Cup. It’s always been a part of my life. I’ve dreamed about it since I was a boy.”
Listening to Williams’ passion for the Melbourne Cup gives you goosebumps and if proof is ever needed, what it means for the local people. Away from an annual horse racing event which is very much at the epicenter of the city, there are seven AFL teams, a professional rugby union and rugby league team, the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Rod Laver Arena, which hosts the Australian Open. The place is sports mad.
Of course, as a UAE racing fan, it was disappointing not to see Godolphin win in Melbourne but the manner in which Hartnell and Qewy ran was inspiring. Third place might have disappointed Hartnell jockey James McDonald, but the horse is a class act and this finish represents a positive stride in the hope that he might race over a shorter distance.
After experiencing the sheer energy at Flemington, I’m enthralled by the passion of the local people for the Melbourne Cup. It’s a magnificent occasion. I can only compare it to previous experiences of being at Ascot, Newmarket, Leopardstown or the Dubai World Cup, and even though you have plenty of adoring racing fans at these venues, the atmosphere in Melbourne is incomparable.
The Melbourne Cup is clearly a significant part of the country’s culture and it’s a race that draws the people together. It is the biggest race in the world for me, and if one ever has the chance to travel to Australia for the first week in November, then it’s definitely a sporting occasion not to miss.
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