Melbourne Cup Day 2014

Horse racing in the Melbourne Cup

It’s the first Tuesday in November, which means in Australia it’s… Melbourne Cup Day!

In the past, Melbourne Cup Day had never really held any passing interest for me. I’d discerned it was a day where my classmates were quite excited about the horse races, and would often crowd around the television in the common room or lounge if they were able at lunch time; but with no interest in gambling, I never really gave it much attention.

It was a chance to admire the elegant horseflesh, and to admire the often bizarre names horses were given, but not much more. Today however, blew away my assumptions as I truly began to appreciate just how the Melbourne Cup is ‘a race that stops a nation’.

Sweepstakes and Fascinators

Quite literally stopping a nation in fact, as several hours of the day today were dedicated to setting up sweepstakes, checking out the current odds on horses, looking up the various horses racing, and finally sitting down in one of the local pubs to chat with colleagues, partake of unhealthy amounts of food and drink, and finally watching that deciding race that determined if you won or lost money.

The day started off fairly normal, but soon one of my colleagues was coming around with the sweepstakes, where each person who wanted to participate would pitch in $5 and draw two random horses, as there were 22 horses racing today and 11 people participating (2 horses scratched). The horses I drew were Opinion and Araldo.

It was a long (and fairly unproductive) wait, but as lunch time rolled around the company headed on down to one of the local pubs to eat, drink beer and make merry while we waited for the deciding race. There I bought another $2 sweep where I drew Seismos.

$2 Sweepstakes card for the Melbourne Cup 2014

A money matter

Today was an interesting exercise in trying to understand how the betting industry works. As a non-gambling person, I’d never really paid attention to it in the past to not give myself a reason to get into it, but it was interesting to watch the odds today and how people spread their bets. The lower the winnings meant the horse was a favourite and vice versa, but in the end nomatter how much you analyse the horses’ past wins and stats there are too many factors that come into play as to whether that horse takes the title or lucks out.

I disagree when people say it’s all a matter of luck, because it’s not really. These horses all have the skill to win, which is why they are competing, but they may have more or less favourable conditions, their jockeys might be presented opportunities and taken (or not taken) them, and various multitudes of factors. True, some of these can be set down to luck, such as the weather, but some aren’t such as knowing when to take that opportunity to break ahead in the race.

There wasn’t too much of a cheer going up in the pub as the winning horse bolted across that finish line today, most people probably having placed their bets on Admire Rakti, Signoff and Lucia Valentina as the winning favourites after reading the advice online. This is the moment you know whether you have won or lost.

In my mind, the money is lost anyway so it wasn’t too big a deal although I felt a passing regret at not placing an actual TAB bet on the horse whose name I had a fascination with, this year’s Melbourne Cup winner, a German horse by name of Protectionist. (What a delightful name!) But that’s where it all starts, and it’s only a dark road down from there.

Despite the sad news about Admire Rakti and Araldo, and the equally sad knowledge that many horses die for these kinds of races each year, I had a good time today just hanging out with colleagues, enjoying good food and conversation and a chance to just get together. It’s a reminder of the collateral damage these kinds of racing events have unfortunately. While I still have my reservations and it may feel wrong to enjoy the event at the expense of these horses, I enjoyed the team bonding nonetheless.

Post featured image from (Robert Cianflone / Getty)