Trainer Matt Cumani on Grey Lion (R) and Francesca Cumani on Gallic Chieftain exercise at Altona Beach on October 28, 2016 in Altona, Australia. (John Donegan/Racing Photos)
I was reminded when working at the Ebor Festival last week that it was 10 whole years since Purple Moon won the prestigious Ebor Handicap and went on to be runner-up in the 2007 Melbourne Cup. That means it’s 11 years since I first attended the Spring Carnival!
I had no idea at the time what a life changer it was going to be for me and I will be eternally grateful to my Dad, Luca for entrusting me with the care of Soulacroix and Glistening for our stable’s maiden raid on Melbourne.
I had obviously heard of the Melbourne Cup prior to boarding the plane with my four-legged-friends, but was relatively clueless as to the scale and the importance of the event.
In the UK, outside of the industry paper, the Racing Post, it’s rare to see anything more than a page dedicated to racing news and fields in the daily papers, so you can imagine my surprise to see several pages in the Herald Sun and The Age full of racing. Add to that a radio channel dedicated solely to racing, racing promotional material in the shopfronts and racing on everybody's lips. I had arrived in a place where racing is mainstream; not a niche sport.
The attention on the international horses is something that seems so normal now, but at the time seeing photographers with their long lenses peering over the fences of the quarantine facility was odd and odder still, seeing myself referred to in print as a 'strapper'; not a word I'd heard before in Europe.
Needless to say, we strappers were incredibly well looked after by Racing Victoria who were always on hand to help with all manner of requests and queries and also made sure we had a great time.
As with any mission abroad, with racehorses you learn so much with each visit, but in my case that first year was a huge learning curve. I learnt about how to help prevent travel sickness in horses, how best to feed them on arrival, how to adapt their training regimes to a flat oval track, and how to keep them relaxed in tie up stalls at the races for three hours prior to their race.
I also learnt that picking barrier 24 in the Melbourne Cup is not likely to enhance your chances of winning the great race – I haven't been allowed to do the barrier selection since!
But above all, I learnt that the Spring Carnival is an event that I had to keep coming back to and that the Melbourne Cup itself is a race that is at the top of the list of races you want to win.
It has to be seen to be believed and there's no coincidence that when overseas trainers and the owners come once, they just want to keep coming back again and again.