Click above to watch The Cup movie trailer…
(Photo : Film Music Reporter - Footage : Punters Paradise)
“THE MELBOURNE CUP”
Tellytrack viewers are bound to be itching at the prospect of the release of the new motion movie “The Cup”, which has featured so often among the adverts on racing’s dedicated TV channel in recent weeks. With Africa’s biggest race, the Vodacom Durban July, just over a month away, the celebration of another country’s epic, the Melbourne Cup, couldn’t be better timed. The Melbourne Cup is an Australian institution dating to 1860 (more than thirty years before Durban staged its first Durban July), and for the first 150 years almost, Australians counted the Cup as their own, at least to the degree that they could ever count New Zealanders as family.
The Aussies can be quite parochial about these things, so anything they’d have to share with their trans-Tasman neighbours could only occur in harmony if the Kiwis could take it home with a measure of grace. The stature of this race, in the end a handicap contest between a bunch of old stayers in a speed-crazy country, has grown to such a degree that the first Tuesday in November is celebrated as a public holiday in the state of Victoria, and the race has been known not only to “stop the nation’, but also to suspend the Federal parliament.
The coziness which had the Cup in the clutches of Australasian horsemen for almost a century and a half, was rocked in recent years by the outreach programme embraced by the Victoria Racing Club (VRC), which subsidised flights, entry fees and accommodation for foreign raiders. In the broader scenario though, nobody foresaw a change in the status quo, so nobody worried.
Along came the Irish-trained Vintage Crop, and along came the end of innocence. Australia’s oldest sporting tradition had finally been opened up to the outside world, and the outside world had won. Some believed this could only enrich the race and the folklore that goes with it. But others were uneasy. Foreigners had plundered their best race: they might grab the money again next year. Outsiders had made their racing heroes look ordinary. If they had not come along, Australians could’ve gone on telling themselves they had the best horses and best jockeys in the world.
The controversy still simmers: it gives a fresh dimension to Geoffrey Blainey’s theory about the tyranny of distance. There is a charm in distance. It allows you to hang onto your myths. When the VRC first invited Irish and English horses to run in the Cup, most locals thought it a fine idea. It was assumed these beasts would have the good grace to lose, and that their connections would fall about saying what super horses the Australians had, and what an honour it was to spend sixty grand on airfares and to be allowed to listen to the Governor General, reading from his prepared notes with all the spontaneity of a dissident at one of Stalin’s show trials.
The trouble was, the Irish trainer Dermot Weld, did a wondrous thing. He brought Vintage Crop 17,000 kms on a 38-hour plane trip. He turned him out beautifully. He had him as fit as a horse could be, and he didn’t just win the Cup: he romped away with it, and set a weight-carrying record for a seven-year-old. Locals said it couldn’t be done, and this infiltrator had done it.
The Melbourne Cup, like no other race in the world, is part of a national culture. In less than three-and-a-half minutes, everything had changed, perhaps forever. Now the other hemisphere owned a piece of the race. The Cup would become the staying championship of the world. This year Irish accents, next year American accents. Australians might have trouble winning their own race. What had they started?
The democracy of the Cup has given it a rare flavour over the decades. Australians often identify with the winners, and it isn’t like this with the fabled races of Europe. When Gurner’s Lane won the Cup in 1982, he was led in by a syndicate of 40. When Kiwi got there the following year, he was led in by a farmer. The worry among the Aussies was that it wouldn’t be like that in the future, but because prize money there was much greater than in Europe, the wealthy men of the Old World would be loading up 747s with their best horses for hit-and-run raids. But the Cup remained a handicap, not a classic: any horse can win if the weight is right. Perhaps the VRC could load them with “pudding”?. It was all very well saying Vintage Crop “stole” their Cup; the high class English stayer, Drum Taps ran 9th, which meant he was beaten by seven locals. Democracy wasn’t exactly dead yet.
And there is a happier side to all of this. No club in the world has nurtured a race of this sort for so long as the VRC has the Melbourne Cup. Despite all the changes in the world, the race is bigger now than it was in 1880, the year of the first 100,000 crowd, and much bigger in one sense, because it’s now very much a part of the world circuit. A few local myths are dead, and Australians have discovered that the home-town stars aren’t quite as hot as they thought, and maybe they’ll have to look for better ones. Last year alone, only three of the twenty-four that lined up were bred in Australia, and just another three came from New Zealand. None of them was sighted at the business end. This is no tragedy, and don’t fret too much about the Irish. Foreigners have been plundering the Cup for decades. It’s just that on the other occasions, they called them New Zealanders.
And finally, the Cup is folksy. The inimitable Les Carlyon, almost as much a legend as the Cup itself, captured the folklore better than anyone. Ray Trinder, the Tasmanian owner who won in 1972, was seen outside the course holding the Cup in a cardboard box, trying to hail a cab. It doesn’t go like this at Epsom or Longchamps. In Melbourne, the script is by Shakespeare. The Cup is a saga about horses and the human condition, about lowbrows and highbrows, toffs and villains, irony and rough humour and the improbable, which brings us back to our original purpose. Anyone with an appreciation for the “higher things” in life, should see the movie.
Coming soon, at a cinema near you.