Antipodeans' heady brew is in another sphere

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The Independent Online

People who have never risked anything on a horse's nose and blithely assume one day's racing to be pretty much like another, would doubtless be mystified by the effects of the Melbourne Cup on Australia's consciousness.

People who have never risked anything on a horse's nose and blithely assume one day's racing to be pretty much like another, would doubtless be mystified by the effects of the Melbourne Cup on Australia's consciousness.

If care must be taken here to avoid condescending appraisal perhaps in no other country does one affair of the turf lie as close to the heart of a nation as the Melbourne Cup in Australia.

No amount of race-going serves to immunise the first time visitor against the fascination it causes annually on the first Tuesday in November which is wisely maintained as a holiday in the state of Victoria.

Anyway, it brought a glorious sunrise entirely suitable to the carnival atmosphere that quickly developed as vast crowds of worshippers made their way to the temple at Flemington. There had been much talk about the raiders from Europe, even further suggestions that racing's globalisation might eventually devalue a national treasure.

This has been a topic of debate in some quarters ever since Vintage Crop became the first northern hemisphere-trained horse to win the Cup back in 1993, but the applause for him when seen at the head of Tuesday's parade spoke for the majority.

Shortly before leaving for the race I fell into conversation with Martin Pipe who was so elegantly turned out with a yellow rose in his lapel that he almost escaped my attention. The master jumps trainer expressed confidence in his charge Far Cry who had shortened in the betting after the sprightly arrival of his jockey Kevin Darley.

Being in a generous mood I communicated Pipe's thoughts to a small group of enthusiasts making their way to the track thinly disguised as nuns. They offered no explanation for their attire neither did another race-goer who had woven coloured rubber bands into his hair. "Drunk as rats they'll be before the day's out," a woman resembling a bag of spanners said.

This was all part of the entertainment and the prelude to a fashion show that had clearly exhausted the imagination of Melbourne's milliners.

According to reliable witnesses, if facilities at Flemington have greatly improved, they are no deterrent to familiar types who are never happier than when short in the pocket and thin in the soul.

Instinct drew me to a bunch who had commandeered one corner of a large bar in easy reach of the counter and the betting windows. Mostly New Zealanders, they had taken up station at 8.30am (the first, a hurdle, went off at 10.30) and were clearly there for the day.

One of the interesting things about this episode - between races all were enthusiastically betting at other tracks - was how cagey my companions were in their assessment of the big race apart from declaring confidently that none of the raiders from overseas took their fancy.

They were particularly dismissive of the John Oxx-trained Enzeli, and Frankie Dettori's mount the Godolphin-owned Lightning Arrow. However, one or two felt Far Cry might have a chance.

By then the place was humming with the attendance estimated in excess of 100,000.

One of the newspapers I had consulted in the course of my researches, the Melbourne Age, had offered its readers the advice of eight experts.

Beneath their choices for the first three places two had named Brew as a likely outsider. Nowhere else did the unfancied New Zealand-bred bottom weight get a mention.

Didn't get much of a mention in running either, but suddenly Brew broke clear under 20-year-old Kerrin McEvoy who completed his apprenticeship only last week. "How can you back a horse called Brew," somebody said.

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