Tradition. Prestige. History.
Three words that go some way towards explaining the enduring appeal of the Spring Racing Carnival, which continues to capture the attention and imagination of Australians everywhere. Like few other events, the Spring Racing Carnival has a habit of producing feelgood stories which resonate beyond the confines of the sport, with tales of triumph in the face of adversity and the battler overcoming the billionaire becoming part of its fabric.
This uplifting narrative has enabled Victorian racing to retain its relevance in an ever-changing world.
When, in 1922, the W.S. Cox Plate was added to Victoria’s embryonic race program, complementing the Melbourne Cup (first run in 1861) and the Caulfield Cup (inaugurated in 1879), few could have foreseen that, nearly a century on, these three races would headline one of the world’s pre-eminent sporting occasions.
This year’s Spring Racing Carnival – which starts with Memsie Stakes Day at Caulfield on 31 August, and concludes with Ballarat Cup Day on 23 November – will for the first time offer more than $100 million in prizemoney. According to an independent study conducted in 2017, the carnival also provides a gross economic benefit of $763 million to Victoria’s economy.
But these numbers alone, however impressive, do not do justice to the Spring Racing Carnival. Instead the three-month extravaganza, which features 21 Group 1 races and a plethora of country cups run on some of Victoria’s most picturesque racetracks, can be more accurately judged by the emotions it inspires and the unforgettable moments it produces.
The most recent “I was there” occasion came on 27 October, 2018, when a packed-to-the-rafters Moonee Valley Racing Club witnessed waltz into immortality, as the mighty mare claimed an unprecedented fourth straight W.S. Cox Plate. The queen of the turf has since retired to the breeding barn, with a date with renowned stallion I Am Invincible set for later this year; but her heiress apparent, Mystic Journey, looks well equipped to fill the void having swept all before her in the autumn.
No doubt the overseas raiders will again have their say this spring, with a British trifecta in the 2018 Melbourne Cup a fitting way to celebrate 25 years of international competition. Vintage Crop’s daring raid on the 1993 Melbourne Cup had a profound effect on the carnival, with its impact felt to this day as the annual influx of international visitors – which now stands at 257 and counting – adds a dash of cosmopolitan intrigue to what had been, until the Irish raider’s triumph, an exclusively Antipodean affair.
The rest of the 1990s were dominated by Australian horses, with a whole host of equine greats – including Doriemus, Saintly, Might and Power and Sunline – writing their names into sporting folklore. The next decade will inevitably be remembered for Makybe Diva’s remarkable treble in the ‘race that stops a nation’. Fourteen years on from the third leg of her historic hat-trick in 2005, the Diva’s pilot Glen Boss has returned to his native Australia following a stint in Singapore, determined to add another chapter to an already glittering career.
In terms of pure athleticism, even his most ardent admirers would not mention Prince of Penzance in the same breath as Makybe Diva; but his 2015 win in Australia’s most iconic race was, in its own way, just as momentous, bringing instant fame for jockey Michelle Payne.
With a hole host of elite athletes – both male and female, human and equine – ready to showcase their supreme skills over the next three months, the stage is set for another chapter to be written in the rich history of the Spring Racing Carnival.
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