Melbourne Cup Day- What’s That All About?

Green Moon wins the Melbourne Cup 2012 (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

If I had a dollar for every time someone looked at me accusingly and suggested I (as in, every American ever) killed Phar Lap, well, I would’ve made a few bucks this week.

Because, of course, this week saw the running of the Melbourne Cup, “the race that stops the nation”. It’s a massive horse race in Melbourne, which featured many over the top hats, a lot of workplace betting, and Charles and Camilla, who stopped to mingle with their former convict brethren on their tour of the Southern Hemisphere.

The race is held in such high regard that the entire state of Victoria enjoys a public holiday, so that the Victorians can get eat, drink, gamble, and be merry, without letting a little thing like the 8 hour work day stop them from frivolity and reckless abandon.  There has been a push in NSW to make race day a public holiday here as well. I’m not one to complain about days off work, but shutting down an entire country for a horse race that lasts under a minute seems like overkill. However, this is coming from a country that gets the Queen’s birthday (yes, the queen) off as holiday, something that the British public doesn’t even get.

Despite the misfortune of having to actually go to work, and, well, work, this past Tuesday, there still seemed to be a large number of people getting in the spirit of the race. A few colleagues and I had a pub lunch,  (as none of us were Aussie) to see what all the fuss was about. Even at noon (the race didn’t start till about 3), but the place was chock full of girls in party frocks and fascinators, teetering in heels and guzzling champagne, a few guys dressed as jockeys, and all the tvs were blasted pre race odds and trivia. Later that afternoon, an office party was thrown. In what you would expect from an office get together, it featured awkward small talk, cheese platters, and the viewing of the actual race on an outdated computer monitor, which froze repeatedly for the entire 30 seconds of the race. So that’s my Melbourne Cup experience- an Aussie tradition which the Aussies seem very happy to continue to uphold. I’m ok with that, as long as I don’t have to wear a race hat.

For what it’s worth:

a. The favorite (Americain) didn’t win. But then again, they rarely ever do. Not to mention that his jockey had just been called out for betting against his own horse in a previous race-doesn’t really inspire confidence. Instead, a horse called Green Moon won. Racing against fellow horses Zabeelionaire, Niwot, and Kelinni, he might also win the title of least ridiculous name.

b. No, Black Caviar wasn’t in the race. I thought that too, don’t worry.

c. It was never proven that Phar Lap, a famous Australian champion racehorse, was poisoned by the Americans in an act of sabotage. But try telling that to Australians.

(Pictures courtesy of


3 thoughts on “Melbourne Cup Day- What’s That All About?

  1. Sorry to hear you are being blamed for the death of phar lap, that must be a real bore. I think you have captured the Melbourne Cup experience very well. I am Australian but its not really my cup of tea. Then again, I am one who prefers a cup of tea to wine and cheese any day, so that may be why!

  2. Well, Katie, we have never been in Austrailia for the race, but we were in Melbourne during the soccer (football) championships one year. The Adelaide Crows were driving through the streets blasting their theme song…which oddly was to the tune of the Marine Corps Hymn. We didn’t quite follow the sense of all of the activities but we did get that everyone was having a wonderful time. The excitement was comparable to March Madness in the states. Even I, though I don’t watch sports on TV except for the Redskins and the Olympics, carefully follow women’s basketball in March (I lettered in basketball in High School). Oh, and who is Phar Lap?

    1. Thanks for the comment! They take sports pretty seriously over here- Phar Lap was a champion Australian racehorse, but he died when he was in the US for a race…there were lots of rumors that the Americans had poisoned him so the Aussies wouldn’t win, but I’ve heard conficting stories as to how he actrually died.

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