Last weekend, an annual spectacle, unique to Melbourne, began in full force: The Melbourne Cup.
This yearly sporting event is Australia’s most prestigious horse race. It’s known as the “race that stops the nation”—that phrase was uttered to me by four different people. However, this event is not known just for its horses. If you say the phrase “Melbourne Cup” in Melbourne, it will evoke images of glamor and incredibly fancy dress. This is an event that is unmissable for the Melbourne elite. In fact, many of Melbourne’s socialites will prepare their dresses and hats months in advance and there is even a competition for best-dressed man and woman. Also, The Melbourne Cup has hosted many famous celebrities in the past, such as British royalty, and, this year, Usain Bolt was in attendance.
However, there is quite a bit of controversy when you speak to Australian’s about the Melbourne Cup. Some of them are excited about it, ready to put some money down on a couple of horses. However, quite a few people have the view that this event is cruel for the horses and should not be going on. It’s interesting to be a foreigner and to learn about these different perspectives on something like The Melbourne Cup.
The individual Melbourne Cup race took place on November 7th, but the events and other races started on Saturday the 4th which altogether makes up the whole Melbourne Cup. The Monday before the race, there was the Melbourne Cup parade right down the street from where I am living. My roommate and I decided to go watch it. It was quite a fun event because they had old winners, horse-drawn carriages, children dressed as jockeys, aboriginal performing arts groups, and the winners of the fashion show (who were probably wearing dresses that cost more than Drexel’s tuition).
Tuesday, Melbourne Cup Day, was an official public holiday. And no, I’m not joking. The state of Victoria named a horse race a public holiday. No one went to school, the banks were closed, and store hours changed. The interesting this about this is that the horse race starts at 3pm and lasts for about two whole minutes. I went to go watch it on the big screen in a pub and it was fascinating the thing unfold. Right up to the start of the race, people were placing bets at designated bet machines. When the race started, the bar went quiet. And then, as the horses turned the last corner, people began shouting, screaming, and egging on their favorites to win. Ultimately, there was a mix of happiness and disappointment at the end of it all.
The Melbourne Cup is a unique experience unto itself. There are dresses, parades, and even a horse race or two. It’s publicized months in advance and planned even further ahead. In the end, it’s a uniquely Australian thing and I’m glad I was able to experience it.