Australia’s Spring Racing Carnival is difficult to comprehend for racing fans who have not had the first-hand pleasure of being there in the thick of it.
Happily for me, I still have enough memory to remember my “gap year” in late 2002, when I was fortunate enough to to be in the right place at the right time. I had narrowly escaped serious injury a few weeks earlier in the terrorist bombs of Bali and arrived in Melbourne feeling a little bit lonely, a bit rattled and more than a bit saddened.
Having fallen in with a family who lived in Mount Waverley, in early November I summoned up the Aussies dollars and courage to head to Flemington to join over a hundred thousand Aussie punters for the Melbourne Cup, “the race that stops a nation”. Media Puzzle won that day, but his triumph was a side-show for me as I revelled in the bonhomie of a holidaying nation.
Over here, we celebrate the Grand National, the Cheltenham Festival and, to a lesser degree nowadays, the Derby, but none compare to this annual jamboree on the outskirts of Melbourne, which is one of the feature races of Australia’s Spring Racing Carnival. This time next week they will be at it again, and long may they cherish their very special highlight of a very special time to be Down Under.
Wondermare Winx reminded us at the weekend that Australia’s Spring Racing Carnival is much more than a one-race firework display. She took her second Cox Plate in our early hours, extending her winning run to 13 races with 9 at G1 level.
In our not too distant past, we had sprinting sensation Black Caviar who rewrote the record books. Winx is emulating her over longer distances and the Royal Ascot authorities have her as their primary target to make the June 2017 meeting a Winx affair.
If jump racing isn’t your thing and you’re about to head into hibernation until April, the prospect of Australia’s superstar strutting her stuff next Summer over here should keep you warm through the Winter.
Lately, I’ve been rediscovering my literary side and have already recommended Chris McGrath’s historical romp as a brilliant pressie for racing enthusiasts.
It’s unashamedly high-brow, so if that sounds like your idea of going back to school, I can recommend “How’s Your Dad? by the hugely likeable Mick Channon Jr.
Young Channon (who isn’t that young) tells an entertaining story of his life as son to a former England striker turned Flat trainer.
If you are offended by a bit of industrial language, give it a big swerve. The Channons don’t mince their words, but if you like your racing earthy, honest and shot through with a large dose of very human emotion, pathos and humour, this is a cracker.
Life hasn’t been easy for Channon Jr but his self-deprecating style makes him instantly readable and if you’re lucky enough to have some Winter sun, you’ll have this polished off within a couple of days.
One of the great joys of jump racing is the sheer visibility of the big names. As I type, we’ve got the Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack preparing for an afternoon race at Chepstow.
This weekend, we’ll see Cue Card line up in the Charlie Hall, hopefully alongside the likes of Blaklion and returning Gold Cup winner Coneygree. We don’t have to wait until the New Year to welcome them all. Here they are, ready for the cut and thrust or jump racing in the raw, and for those of us who have missed our heroes, it’s a wonderful time to be a fan.
Better still for readers, I’m going to resist the temptation to tip a loser. I am still smarting after the Racing Post Trophy and a win for my old pal Rivet. As Morecambe and Wise might have said, I am tipping all the winning horses, just not necessarily in the correct races.