Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The race that stops a nation

Sweltering at the moment in Sydney - in our part of town it's going to get pretty close to the hundred on the old scale before a cool change tonight. I went outside for a few minutes and decided it was really too hot, humid and revolting to get the bike out. I'm a wimp; fact is I'm not a summer person, and our winters here are so glorious for riding. I loathe exercising in summer, so it'll be rides in the evening from now on. But I digress. This post isn't about bikes, it's about the Melbourne Cup.

Back in my misspent youth I was a horseracing tragic. I memorised the names of every single Melbourne Cup winner as a teen - at the time I would have been able to recite more than 110 winners. I couldn't do algebra to save my life, but I could explain the difference between 6/4 and 5/2 in terms of betting odds, and work out how much I'd have to spend at different odds to win $20. Melbourne Cup day was the best day of the year behind Christmas Day. It was my own joyous holiday, my celebration of horses and racing, and my high school knew there was no chance of me being at school that day. My poor mother... writing excuse notes year after year.

I grew out of all that gradually as left school and got a job, but The First Tuesday In November is still a special, exciting day for me. I've done the form guide and picked my horses. I used to have an excellent system that meant while I'd be backing between three and seven horses, I could just about be guaranteed the winner; and for many years happily made a profit on the Cup. Now with the influx of international horses it's harder to maintain that system and some of the leadup races have changed a little too, so now I'm like any other mug punter with the Cup.

This year I'm backing three horses trained by Bart Cummings. He's won 12 Melbourne Cups and at 81 will be thinking of retiring soon and will be doing his best to make it 13. I'm also backing a rank outsider for very sentimental reasons.

I've mentioned in a previous post my teen lust for jockeys. My first jockey crush was on a New Zealand guy called Noel Harris, who came second in the Cup in 1973 on the short favourite, Glengowan. Many saw it as a boy being sent on a man's errand. Noel was 18 and real eye candy. Yum yum yum. I had posters of him torn from racing magazines on my bedroom wall. I was 11 at the time.

Noel is still riding at the age of 54. Like Bart Cummings, he'll be desperate for a Cup win before he retires. He's ridden more than 2000 winners in his career, but never the pinnacle of Australasian racing, The Melbourne Cup. He's on a rank outsider, 100/1, this year.

Above is Noel's backside. This was taken for a charity race celebrating Jockey underwear; the riders did it Superman-style with their underwear on the outside. And here's a pic of him taken last year. He's pretty fit for a guy in his 50s. (Blimey... where has the time gone? I only feel 21 still.)

I thought I'd do a wee bit of research on Noel this morning... I wonder whether he's riding every year when Cup time comes around and like my other old jockey flame he's fairly recently hooked up with a woman thirty years younger than himself. Heh heh, I can pick 'em, can't I?

Anyway, good luck to "Harry" - I hope he can finally achieve a dream and win the Cup this afternoon. Come 2.30 pm I'll be in front of the telly with a glass of champagne cheering him on.


  1. As a postscript.... didn't get a bean. I'm no big punter so was $10 down the drain. But a thrilling race and a well-deserved win to Shocking, who was ridden beautifully and kindly by Corey Brown. That's my punting done for another year :-)

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