Friday, November 10, 2023

Off to the Races

Boat Race in the Desert, Alice Springs, Australia
by Alli Polin is licensed under CCA-SA-2.0 Generic

A friend just shared a letter-to-the-editor recently published in an Australian newspaper. It draws attention to the Melbourne Cup, held annually on the first Tuesday in November. Anyone from other countries not fanatical about thoroughbred horse racing might not know that "The Cup," as it's widely known, is a horse race held in the far south of the country, at the nation's second most populous city of about five million people. 

And the Melbourne Cup is not just any horse race. Held since 1861, Australians nationwide traditionally stop all other activity to follow the calling of the race. From all walks of life on one day of the year, Aussies avidly follow this occasion with its trackside touches of high fashion and excess. 

Opportunities are everywhere, in both urban and rural areas, to bet on the race. These include legal betting outlets, as well as pools or sweeps in workplaces, schoolyards, suburban homes, and, of course, as complement to refreshment in the local pubs. For many, this will be their once-a-year flutter. It is an annual big deal that unites the nation on hopes of betting on a winner. 

The letter-to-the-editor describes folks to the north some 2,000 miles/3,150 km, who follow the occasion in their own way. At "the Berry Springs Tavern, 40 minutes south of Darwin...they marked the Melbourne Cup Day by having baby crocodiles race down the pub's verandawhich was lined with hay stacks."

This brings to mind some other Aussie novelties. In the country's central desert, at least from 2007 to 2020, tourists and maybe some locals enjoyed the Alice Springs Camel Cup (here). And apparently still in full sail is the so-called Henley on the Todd Regatta (here + news video here), featuring wannabe sailors who are not very conveniently about 550 miles/900 km distant from any useful body of water. 

Undaunted, some of these landlubbing sailors belong to the Alice Springs Yacht Club. Amid raucous fun, they learned enough about tacking and other sailing skills on sand to put together a crew for the grueling Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race. 

Among blue water classics, this Race has an earned reputation for being complicated and difficult. Reportedly, it's "the hardest," with a high rate of yachts ordinarily not finishing (Schmidt). To the credit of the sand-sailors, though unplaced, their initial, considerable accomplishment was to complete the Race.

Only in Australia? At least, "especially in Australia" seems apt.


Henley on Todd Regatta (2023)

Pyndan Camel Tracks (2021)

David Schmidt (2022), "The Sydney Hobart Is a Dream to Win and Formidable to Navigate," The New York Times, December 23,