Racing for the Purist and the Partygoer

Ok, the preliminaries are over, time for the main event.

Not that putting Winx to one side is an easy essay. Wow! How good was that?

But now the focus sharpens a little more as racing heads to Flemington, Headquarters.

Derby Day is just a superb feast of the best there is. It’s one of the few meetings that boasts black type (races for the elite horses) all day. Four at Group One level (for the very best of the elite). Cup Day might be for a party, but Derby Day is for the real race fans.

And it all starts from the very first event, The Carbine Club Stakes. Superstar Saintly won this well before he became the great champion he is remembered as.

Next up is the Wakeful Stakes for three-year-old fillies. If you see a good winner here just head straight to your betting outlet and back your fancy to win next Thursday’s Oaks. It’s a sure fire winner. The second rung of stayers have a crack in the Lexus Stakes, but every now and again you’ll find a good priced Melbourne Cup possibility (Shocking actually won the double in 2009)

Now strap yourself in because here come the Group Ones. The Coolmore Stud Stakes is for the sprinting three-year-olds. Watch for a good Sydney runner here. They’ve dominated since this race was switched to Derby Day in 2006.

The Myer Classic is for mares, again at Group One. This can throw up a surprise result, so don’t be afraid to back one at nice odds. And wide gates don’t seem to matter here either.

Time for the big one of the day. The three-year-old stayers in what can truly be called a ‘time honoured’ event. The Victoria Derby pre-dates the Melbourne Cup by six years. One of my favourite memories of the race came in 2008. Whobegotyou was a hot favourite. He’d won the Stutt Stakes, Caulfield Guineas and the AAMI Vase. He was $1.75 favourite and expected to bolt in, but he bumped into a ripper stayer from Adelaide. Rebel Raider was 100/1 and ridden from barrier 15 by Claire Lindop, the first female to win the race

The big one is behind us now, but there’s still another Group One to come. Now known as the Kennedy Mile, it used to be run on final day, but was switched to Derby Day last year. This can be a test for punters. It was won by another 100/1 shot, Tears I Cry, back in 2007. The television pictures post race when he won for owner Anne McGrath are great memories.

Phew, that’s four Group One races down, but the meeting isn’t over yet. A Group Two sprint closes the day before we re-group and prepare for Cup Day.

Derby Day is for the purist, but Cup Day is for the party goer. Saturday was suit and tie. Cup Day it’s OK to suit up as a gorilla.

And let’s face it. The first Tuesday is all about one race only.

I’m fortunate to have attended every cup since 1974 and I’ve called every cup since 1981. So it’s going to be very different for me this year. I’m looking forward to being there to just soak up what is an amazing atmosphere. A huge crowd really gets into the day on Cup Day. The roar of the crowd when the gates open is awesome.

Reflecting on Cup Day evokes so many memories. As a kid I was the school ‘bookmaker’. Van Der Hum was backed with me for what I considered a fortune at the time. He was a wet tracker and I let them all on. I think they backed him because Paul Van der Har was such a popular Essendon football player at the time and they had similar names. Anyway, the heavens opened and the track was a bog. Van Der Hum was plunged, but I didn’t back it back as I’d secured a perfect place to watch the race and didn’t want to risk losing it by going to the bookmakers. I held the bets and lost on the race. I was a terrible bookie.

In 1977 I found myself on the roof of a grandstand that no longer exists calling the Cup into my tape recorder. It was a fantastic thrill as it was the following year, when again I called the race to an audience of one, me. Into that old tape recorder once again.

Just four years later at the age of 22 I was calling the race to an audience of millions for the ABC. I would be there for 36 years. It’s hard to believe it really. From the day Gurners Lane picked up the mighty Kingston Town. The still unbelievable finish of Kiwi coming from last at the turn. The giant Kiwi mare Empire Rose. Let’s Elope who blitzed her way winning everything in 1991. Subzero who became a household name many years after his famous win.

Then the race changed forever when Vintage Crop took the Cup to Ireland. It was the first time the raiders came from Europe. They have continued ever since.

Saintly was magnificent winning for Bart. I thought I’d missed Bart, he’d won seven Cups already by the time I started calling. I was to call another five for him!

Might and Power led all the way to win by a nose from an elated Greg Hall on Doriemus, the happiest second ever in a Melbourne Cup finish.

The emotion flowed after Damien Oliver, still nursing a broken heart, steered Media Puzzle home in 2002. And then Makybe Diva started her run to legendary status.

The Japanese came fleetingly to finish first and second in 2006. Viewed won by a nose two years later in a race I’ll never forget. Gai finally won it with Fiorente after three second places. Michelle stunned the world at 100/1 two years ago and emotionally, for me at least, I called my last when Almandin outstayed them in a sea of all blue colours.

So many wonderful memories.

That’s the races calling.