It was American author Mark Twain, visiting the Melbourne Cup in 1895, who wrote: “The grand-stands make a brilliant and wonderful spectacle, a delirium of colour, a vision of beauty. The champagne flows, everybody is vivacious, excited, happy.”
From the very first Cup in 1861, with 4000 onlookers watching on, it has been a race that has attracted a large crowd. The pandemic has put that tradition to rest, for now. Despite Melbourne’s newfound freedoms, Flemington’s stands, expansive lawns, and Birdcage will stay deserted.
But that is not to say it cannot be enjoyed. If anything, this year has taught Melburnians how to adapt to the once implausible. Local parks have become the new hub for those wanting to reconnect, and will surely play host to many a socially-distanced Cup party.
It has been a challenging time for the racing industry. Last year’s spring racing carnival was rocked by graphic footage of racehorses being killed at abattoirs and knackeries, and revelations of alleged animal cruelty and doping linked to trainer Darren Weir and his assistant. Racing bodies across Australia promised change. In Victoria, there are promising signs.