My Father was in the racing “game”. So I grew up knowing a bit about horse races, betting and odds. I remember Mum dressing up in her finery and jewels to go to watch one of their horses race. I remember going to the stables some Sunday mornings so Dad could see his horses. And most Sunday evenings, Mum and Dad entertained his colleagues – though in those days they were probably mates.
After Dad died, Melbourne Cup day became Mum’s one day of the year. Not for maudlin remembrance, but to entertain and enjoy the company of her closest friends. She spent weeks planning the menu, buying wine, vacuuming, dusting, polishing silver, and organising the sweep. The guests changed a bit from year to year, but there was a core of five or six regulars and four or five who came sometimes. they included her sister, and friends that she had made in the typing pool some fifty years earlier. Some died and others became too frail to travel, but for a good ten years, until her death, this was the highlight of her year. I still remember being surprised – not to mention piqued – when one year I asked if I could come while our children were at school. She refused. I don’t remember her saying no very often in my childhood, let alone on my adult life, but this was definitely her day, and I was not welcome.
So I tend to get a bit nostalgic on the first Tuesday in November. I don’t usually bet, and now I’m not working, I don’t even find myself in a sweep. In fact I haven’t watched the race for years. But today when the neighbours invited us in to share a bottle of bubbly and watch “the race that stops a nation”, I looked forward to it.
But I think it will be the last Melbourne Cup I watch.
Years ago, on the small screen, with cameras well back from the horses, we knew they were being whipped, but didn’t think much about it. But now, with jockey cam, digital television and large screens, the cruelty associated with this massive exercise in drinking and gambling cannot be overlooked. As more than one commentator has said, why are people getting irate about kids and Halloween which has developed in to an event which is fun for families and communities, when several days later adults get drunk, throw money away and watch animals being whipped.
I’m not a great animal rights advocate, and often wish that some of the energy expended on saving animals could go to helping humans lead a better life, but today, especially with the as yet unexplained death of one of the horses, has been the end of an era for me.
RIP Admire Rakti.