I’ve never been a big fan of horseracing. In fact I find gambling in all its forms pretty repugnant, which is ironic given that I work for one of the biggest betting houses in the world. I’ve seen mounds of angst, despair and heartache wrought by gambling’s chimerical seductions. But it isn’t just the perils of gambling that puts me off horseracing. The whole caper seems cruel to me: digging the spurs into the horses side, whipping it, forcing it to race to the point of exhaustion. There are no second chances in a racehorse’s life; a broken leg means that it will swiftly be put to death.
For someone that isn’t into racing the Melbourne Cup, which was run on Tuesday just gone, is completely devoid of interest. It’s an annoyance because it means I have to work. The rest of Australia seems to rejoice in the day (approximately 100,000 go to the race, and another 2 - 3 million either watch it or listen to it over the airwaves), but I’d rather use a day off to go to the beach. It is such a big deal that Cup day is a public holiday. It has become known as ‘the race that stops a nation.’
The Melbourne Cup itself is a grueling ordeal for the horses. At 3200 meters it is one of the longest racing events around. Picture the Olympic hundred meter sprint, only the athletes continue to maintain that breakneck pace for another 3000 meters. Through a heavy sodden track the horses plough, puffing and blowing they gallop for greater speed in response to the cruel crack of the whip. Most horses only have one or two of these races in them, after that they’re broken, ready for retirement.
I’d heard about the horse Makybe Diva on the peripheral. It is hard not to absorb some racing law working in the industry. Whenever Makybe’s name came up amongst customers or my friends it was spoken with reverential awe. Makybe, apparently, had won the last two Melbourne Cups, a feat not replicated by many other equine competitors. There was a lot of media noise in the lead up to this year’s cup, about Makybe, about whether she would run and whether she had a chance of winning a third. Apparently she was up against it; folks were saying that she was too old, she was carrying too much weight (she went into the race carrying a handicap weight of 59kgs, 10kgs more than any other competitor), and that no horse in history had won three. They say it is physically impossible for a horse to win three cups, the toll the race takes on their frame is just too telling. All this hype was lost on me, and when people would harangue me with tales of the ‘Diva’ I’d silently be thinking ‘for chrissakes! It’s only a horse.’
I guess I decided to watch the race this year to see what all the fuss is about. At least if I watched the race once I’d be able to say ‘yep, I’ve seen it, no big deal,’ which would allow me to be comfortable in my scorn of racing fans. Besides, I had become a little curious about this horse that seemed to have gripped the imaginations of otherwise rational human beings. At lunch time I pulled myself away from my desk, whacked a buck in the coke machine, sidled up to the office television and flicked on the tube.
On a sunny Melbourne day the horses were being lead to the barrier. So far nothing had happened to arouse my interest. As I’d expected the horses did not wish to race, instead they fought against the stewards as they were lead towards the barrier. There was one horse, however, regal in bearing, which calmly walked forward, head lowered, towards the stall. With much fuss, flared nostrils, wild eyes and swishing tails, the rest of the competitors were assembled in the starting blocks. They were ready to race.
[Editor's note: is this boring you? Because it sure had begun to bore me - hence the lack of a conclusion.]