Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Race That Stops A Nation

Today, the first Tuesday in November, is the Melbourne Cup. If you have never been in Australia in November, there is probably a good chance that you have never heard about this "race that stops a nation."  This is not an exaggeration, and though it may not be a day-long interruption, you can be sure that during the race Australians of all ages and walks of life, will be glued to television screens or transistor radios during race time.  Even those who are at work will be able to participate in the festivities that range from the serving of nibblies and drinks, to workers participate in sweeps (pools). For those who are fortunate not to work on this day, many of the local restaurants, bars, and pubs are offering drinking and dining packages.  The Mebourne Cup, in fact, generates a national level of enthusiasm similar to Super Bowl Sunday in the USA.
The Cup, as it is known here in Australia, is similar in many ways to the Kentucky Derby.  However, it is older and dates back to 1861.  Both races occur in Spring; the first  Saturday in May in Kentucky and the first Tuesday in November in Melbourne.  The race day is preceded by pre-race festivities: the four day Carnival for the Cup, and the two week-long Kentucky Derby Festival.  Fashion is a high priority at both races with women in brightly colored dresses, high heels and extravagant hats, and men in suits.  While both races are large with about 24 horses participating, The Cup differs from The Derby in distance, and in track surface.  The Melbourne Cup is run over 3,200 meters (2 miles) of grass, and the Kentucky Derby covers 1.25 miles of dirt.  Also, the Melbourne Cup is a handicapped race.  This means that better horses have to carry more weight.
It is funny to think that one of the "greatest horse races" in the world is largely unheard of beyond Australia.

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