Is there any race less Australian than the Melbourne Cup?

Tom Shembrey Roar Rookie

By , Tom Shembrey is a Roar Rookie

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    Kerrin McEvoy after winning the 2016 Melbourne Cup on Almandin. (AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

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    The Race that Stops a Nation. But which nation? I mean come on, sure it’s a great excuse for a day off work in sunny November, and of course it’s an important part of our history, but the Melbourne Cup is without a doubt the worst feature race-day in the spring carnival. 

    As the rise and rise of Winx continues, the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley showcases not only the best set of hooves on turf, but the packed card of other races are definitely all worth watching.

    Don’t forget the exciting Manikato Stakes the night before. 

    I was there at Caulfield last year when Jameka dashed ahead of the field at the 300, and I chewed my fingernails down to the nub as Scottish set out to reel her back in. The rest is history.

    My eyes were on the track all day, from cursing Damien Oliver for his ride on Sylpheed at the start of the day, to joyously embracing a random punter after we all loaded up on $4 favourite Voodoo Lad to get out of jail in the last.

    The Caulfield Cup last year was a great day; the weather was sunny, the racing dramatic and enthralling, and all the other bells and whistles the MRC turned on for the non-punters apparently went down a treat.

    Victorian Derby Day boasts the most Group 1s of any spring carnival day, and the emotions flowed among the black-and-white clad throng after Prized Icon ($17) overcame short favourite Sacred Elixir to add another Cummings name – this time James – to the long line of his family who’ve taken out the three-year-olds classic. 

    Trainer James Cummings

    Trainer James Cummings poses with the trophy after winning the Victorian Derby on Derby Day at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Saturday. Oct. 29, 2016. (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)

    Then came the first Tuesday in November; work sweeps were done, barbecues were lit and punters puzzled over the swathe of imports drafted in to hijack Australia’s richest race. How are you supposed to do form on a horse you’ve never see run, or punt with any confidence on 24 mostly unknown horses over two miles?

    Somehow Hartnell got rolled by German gelding Almandin, who – if you weren’t watching the Group 3 Bart Cummings Stakes over a month beforehand – you would’ve never even heard of. It’s not like there are any other races worth watching on the day, all the nation’s quality thoroughbreds went round on Saturday in the four Group 1s.

    Since Makybe Diva, over a decade ago, there have been just two Australian-bred winners, and even the great mare herself wasn’t born here. This isn’t an attack on the quality of our thoroughbreds; if anything, Australian racing is stronger than ever. Bear in mind how the Japanese raided in 2006 and pinched the quinella; they came back in 2014 with Admire Rakti and left him in the ground.

    Perhaps we have entered a new Reich for German horses, with Protectionist in 2014 and Almandin in the year past.

    Already, whispers and news about the Melbourne Cup in less than two months orbit around which foreign powerhouse trainers will dispatch a fragment of their super-stables to add our most hallowed equine triumph to their over-stacked trophy cabinet. 

    Being the punter of your group of friends is a nightmare on Cup day; every mate who wouldn’t know a forequarter from a furlong is in your ear all day, trying to milk a tip, which most years is like squeezing a dry udder. You’re better off listening to the over-dressed bloke who spent all day on the phone; “a mate of my uncle’s reckons the four is a good each way chance,” or the country boy who claims his dad’s old farm horse was Might and Power’s half-brother.

    Most years you’re better off putting away the form guide and picking a lucky number (barrier 18 has never produced a winner, and saddlecloth 18 has produced the least – that can’t be a coincidence). 

    The Melbourne Cup has this year lost its title as ‘Australia’s richest horse race’, with the $10 million Everest set to run in a few weeks. The Cox Plate is enjoying new levels of fame as Winx’s coronation ceremony, and the other feature races are rising in prominence, while the Race that Stops a Nation is getting set for yet another 24-horse field of overseas thoroughbreds and a scattering of plucky locals to trot out the two miles, all to determine who hid in the pack best and got a gap at the right time (see Prince of Penzance 2015). They’ll net a collective $6 million for that. 

    Enjoy the carnival punters, but don’t wait until November to get on board.