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A singular absence of reportage on the most significant social event of the year in this fair city could lead faithful readers to suppose that I was not actually in Melbourne the day of the “race that stops the nation”

I was, in fact, about twenty kilometers away with half dozen “cycle recyclers” tooling along on a country road leading back to our starting point, the town of Bulla. We were fighting hills and flies and the occasional rabid driver who seemed to think we had no right to be on his road on his day off.

The flies are particularly fierce this time of year. Aussie flies have evolved with virtually no Darwinian sense of self preservation. They do not fly away when you start swatting, simply renew the attack from a different angle. Kamikazes of the insect world. Perhaps the horses here run so fast simply to leave flies behind.

When we moved to Hong Kong it was quickly apparent that horse racing was a very big deal. The funding for the social safety net came entirely from funds generated by betting, but then the Chinese are big gamblers.

Down under, horse racing is huge, and the Melbourne Cup is the biggest race of all. According to my handy Australian encyclopedia, it was established in 1838. Several rival clubs threatened its survival in its infancy, but the formation of the Victoria Racing Club solidified the racing scene in Melbourne. The very first Cup under the new Club was run in 1861. There were 4,000 spectators. On Tuesday, there were 102, 411 at the track.

There is major money involved. The industry employs some 30,000 people and the prize money hovers around 150 million. There are five hundred clubs and 423 different venues. Our little cycling group stopped for lunch at the Coach and Horses Inn in the rural town of Clarkefield, middle of nowhere.

The Cup is just one of a series of races that form the Spring Carnival, which is as much about fashion and alcohol as jockeys and horses. The newspaper is plastered with photos of glamorous girls with fabulous outfits (and spectacular hats), and vivid descriptions of outrageously ostentatious marquees where the rich and famous indulge in champagne and catered delicacies.

Aside from Phar Lap, the most famous horse in Melbourne Cup lore is Makybe Diva, a nine year-old mare who entered the Australian horse racing record books by being the first racehorse to win three consecutive Melbourne Cup races (2003, 2004, 2005). Makybe Diva was born in England. When she failed to attract a bid at auction, Tony Santic, a tuna fisherman from South Australia, bought her and shipped her home to Australia.

Stuck for a name, Santic passed on the problem to five female employees in his fishing business. Not finding inspiration from the bloodlines, the women settled on using the first two letters of their given names in naming the filly. Maureen Dellar, Kylie Bascomb, Belinda Grocke, Dianne Tonkin and Vanessa Parthenis are now part of Australian racing history.

Just in case you were wondering, Super Efficient came from nowhere on Tuesday to win by half a length. The odds against him were twenty to one. He is the first since Phar Lap to win the Derby then come back and win the Cup.

Lloyd Williams, his billionaire owner, went to his casino to celebrate with 200 of his closest friends. Our motley cycling group pulled into Bulla with considerably less fanfare and virtually no spectators. We toyed with the idea of attempting to find a barrista in town, but decided against it. I drove home, had a shower and soaped down my forelock.

It was a good day.

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