Rekindling (GB) ridden by Corey Brown wins the Emirates Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse on November 07, 2017 in Flemington, Australia. (Alice Laidlaw/Racing Photos)
Yesterday I found myself telling a middle-aged Melburnian male about how, at Royal Ascot at end of the day, we all gather around the bandstand waving Union Jack flags and singing songs. Safe to say he looked at me like I had two heads and made a mental note to scrub Ascot off the top off his bucket list!
Before I completely lose any chance of ambassadorial duties for Her Royal Majesty’s race meeting I need to try and redeem myself.
Thousands of semi-inebriated racegoers belting out Jerusalem at the top of their lungs swept up in a wave of patriotism and nostalgia is pretty powerful stuff. It feels like the appropriate way to round off a day that begins with the Queen arriving at the track in a procession of horse drawn carriages that comes all the way down the length of the Ascot straight.
Nowhere else in the world is it possible to replicate what makes Ascot unique and long may the tradition continue! At the Kentucky Derby it’s mint juleps and My Old Kentucky Home, and here in Australia it’s the parade through the streets of Melbourne and the national anthem. These all-important traditions are what helps to make each race meeting special.
I’m often asked to compare the Spring Carnival to other big carnivals around the world and asked where it ranks. I promise it’s not just because I am in Australia and because this is being published here, but in all honesty the Melbourne Cup Carnival comes out on top every time.
I was at the Melbourne Cup launch at Flemington on Monday and heard from the Minister for Racing, Martin Pakula how the contribution to the state from the Melbourne Cup Carnival had risen by 10% from 2015 to 2016. That’s tourism, hotel rooms, restaurants, dresses, hats, shoes and basically everything that goes into making a race day fun. For it to be getting bigger and better all the time is testament to all the hard work that goes into it. And I think it is the constant comparison to other racing jurisdictions that keeps up the drive for innovation and improvement and allows it to keep that top spot.
Compare that with the Kentucky Derby which does get huge crowds, but in the four years that I went, other than an enormous big screen in the infield, very little changed. In fact, it feels like Churchill Downs and the whole of Louisville actually was stuck in the 1950s.
At the turn of the century the whole of the Ascot grandstand was torn down and replaced with an enormous, modern, state of the art facility. Even now there are those who harp back to the old days, but it’s all about moving with the times and Ascot has done a good job marrying up the old with the new.
In the same way that the Spring Carnival falls at a great time in the calendar, so does the royal meeting. In the height of summer, two weeks after the Derby and leading into two fabulous weeks at Wimbledon. The days are shorter, with the first race at 2.30pm and the last at 5.35pm, only six in total yet you need plenty of stamina if you chose to do each day, Tuesday through to Saturday without a break. Picnics in the carpark before and after racing are the norm, but everyone does at least intend on seeing a horse in the parade ring or on the track while the racing is on which can’t always be said for over here… ahem!
That brings me to the Birdcage, which is truly one of a kind. To have the likes of Emirates, Lexus, Kennedy, Myer, AAMI and James Boags amongst many others all paying fortunes to have a presence at the track and further fortunes entertaining high profile guests with top notch food, drink and entertainment is amazing and unlike anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. Fashions on the Field is also the envy of race clubs all over the world who have tried to copy it, but failed to get a fraction of the support and traction that it has here.
While it’s probably not flags they’ll be waving after the races this coming week and the local ‘Queen of Racing’, Gai Waterhouse doesn’t technically have a crown, one thing is for sure, the roar when the gates crash open at 3pm on Tuesday afternoon will say it all!