The Melbourne Cup: The Race That Stops Australia
Life in Spain was full of festivals and holidays that gave me deeper insight into Spanish culture and also provided some of my best memories from my time abroad. This week, I got to partake in my first truly Australian celebration, the Melbourne Cup.
Known as “the race that stops a nation,” the Melbourne Cup is a major horse race dating back to 1861. Think Kentucky Derby times ten, where every person in Australia stops whatever they’re doing for four minutes to cheer on their favorite horse. Victoria, the state where Melbourne is located, declares it a public holiday, and throughout the rest of Australia you’re guaranteed to find pubs and hotels advertising their expensive Melbourne Cup lunches or companies using the day to host office parties. In 2000, an estimated 80% of the Australian adult population bet on the race.
Like the Kentucky Derby, the Melbourne Cup is a big day for fashion, with no shortage of the same breed of silly hats and fascinators (a word I just learned) we Americans were startled and amused by at William and Kate’s wedding a few years ago. I don’t think I’m cool enough for the Melbourne Cup.
My new company uses Melbourne Cup Day as Strategy Day, so this year we headed to a converted train workshop where I jumped right into things by presenting our new digital marketing strategy. We then headed to a pub together for a buffet lunch, drinks, and bets, and at 3pm everyone held their breath to see which of the 24 competing horses would be declared the victor. Quite an intense few minutes.
Fondly reminiscing about my favorite childhood CD-i game and at Santa Anita Park minutes from my home, I bet a grand total of $8 on three horses I chose by name (Seville, because I lived there for a year, Super Cool, because I used to work for Supercool Creative, and Dunaden, because it sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings) plus a random draw.
Tragically, I won nothing. Who’d have thought my thorough, informed horse selection techniques would fail me? But I still declare the day a total success: I impressed my coworkers with my presentation and got to celebrate an exciting tradition at the core of Australian culture…plus free food and drinks never hurt. Now someone just get me one of those ridiculous hats.