There are some places that are just about perfect. These cannot be replicated, that prima facie seem like all the others, but they are wholly different, so special that every time you go there you are as excited as the first time, that on approach give you real, proper goosebumps and that no matter how many times you attend, no matter how many times you say to yourself “it won’t be as good as last year”, it is. It’s better. Every time.
It’s Flemington. Cup Week.
I can’t tell you how much I love it – but I’ll try.
On Derby Day I jumped out of a cab at the roundabout on Epsom Road and walked the long gentle decline to the track, looking straight down the straight, marvelling at the roses and the new stand and just so bloody excited to be there. I’m always the first to arrive. Same thing happened on Oaks Day when I arrived about 80 minutes before the first race…The wife thinks I’m nuts.
It’s not a day at the races, it’s so much more – comparing Flemington during Cup Week to a day at the races is like saying visiting Notre Dame is “going to church”.
I’m never invited to the Birdcage but always walk through it on the way to my spot on The Rails. I have to admit I walk slowly and hover, hoping to recognise someone, anyone, inside a marquee who could invite me in for a drink and a look. But it never happens.
The Birdcage, as fabulously decadent as it is, isn’t really for me. It feels like a giant work event. A big corporate/celebrity mash-up. And it’s too bloody noisy (…there you go, I’m now officially OLD).
The Rails is my home at Flemington. A place where you can see horses, where mates and strangers wander between car spots and share a beer all afternoon, where you can have fancy catering and posh waiters like we did on Thursday, or Derby Day’s home cooked food brought in on the back of the ute with booze courtesy of Mr Dan Murphy.
Oaks and Derby are so fascinatingly different. The monochrome of Derby Day is incredible these days – it’s like someone’s put a giant #blackandwhitefilter on a massive, moving Instagram feed.
On Oaks Day, it’s like Willy Wonka took over the licorice factory. It’s a proper carnival of colour, it’s bright and fun – it’s spectacular. They are both spectacular. Same same but different.
I know it’s a bit fashionable to bash the gee-gees right now. To have a crack at Gai about More Joyous and Tom or Olly about his misdemeanours last year, but fair dinkum people, horse racing has always been a unique mix of rogues, battlers, toffs, try-hards and desperates. It’s what makes it so much fun. If you want white bread, vanilla sport, go watch tennis. I hate tennis.
The rough as guts, laconic trainer, the cheeky arrogant jockey, the imperious owner from the wealthy family, the strapper who loves the horse more than their own family, and a thousand variations on those themes. It’s sport inextricably linked to gambling. It’s sport AS gambling – so it takes all types. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Colourful tennis identity”…‘cos they don’t exist.
I bloody love the horses. And I love Flemington. If there are two temples of sport in this country they are quite obviously Flemington and the MCG.
Damn you Melbourne for owning them both, but thank you for sharing them – my life would be less without you.