Melbourne Cup: As another horse dies the party keeps going
No announcement was made of the death of Cliffs of Moher as the drink kept flowing
Fans enjoy the festivities during Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Three things happened after the running of the Melbourne Cup – the race that stops the nation, or at least causes it to pause.
The drunken crowds who had held it together until after the big race dispersed, leaving a wreckage of muddied lawns and discarded plastic wine glasses in their wake.
The rain, which had been holding off since just before midday, began bucketing down again.
And a horse died.
Cliffs of Moher was an Irish, Aidan O’Brien-trained horse that drew barrier two. He broke his shoulder 600 metres into the 3.2km race, right near the grandstand, and was euthanised after the race.
You wouldn’t know it, standing on the grounds. There was no announcement. Confirmation from the editor in chief of Racing.com, Shane Anderson, came through while the Victorian Racing Club was still conducting speeches for the winner of the Cup, Godolphin-trained Cross Counter, as well as winning jockey Kerrin McEvoy.
Further down the lawn, racegoers kick off their shoes and discard all semblance of controlled behaviour.
One man, shirt slung around his shoulder, poses for a photo while his friend licks his nipple. Two young couples, women with bare toes squelching in the grass, adopt the look of supreme concentration requred when asked to spell your own name after four hours of day-drinking.
The other 23 Melbourne Cup runners, those lucky enough to survive the race, walk laps around the parade ground. They are sweaty and tired but still alert, swinging their long necks around to gawk back at all the rubberneckers lined up with their mobile phones to film the winner.
The strapper leading 10-year-old veteran Who Shot Thebarman loops an arm over his shoulder to pat him as he walks around.
Back on the lawns, a group of young men dance and sing incoherently. A woman trying to walk on the muddy path, which has begun to suck and cling at shoes, falls over, reaches for her friend to lift her up, and falls over again. A flock of seagulls, the Hitchcockian end to every race day, prepares to descend on the discarded wrappers.
It’s the ordinary post-Cup scene. Except that a horse has died.
That, according to the RSPCA, is becoming increasingly ordinary too. Cliffs of Moher is the sixth horse to die from an injury sustained in the Melbourne Cup since 2013.
In a statement confirming Cliffs of Moher’s death, Racing Victoria said such tragedies were “infrequent.”
“This was an unfortunate incident that happens infrequently, with Victoria having one of the best safety records in world racing,” said Jamie Stier, the executive manager of integrity services.
Flemington is always better before the Cup has run. In the scant three hours of sunshine between rain so heavy it disrupted trains coming into Flemington Racecourse station for more than an hour on Tuesday morning, and the starting gun for the cup firing at 3pm, the event was at its best.
Fashionable people paraded in the Park, the area roped off for fashions on the field, while even more fashionable and slightly famous people hobnobbed in the Birdcage, which this year was taken over by a DJ booth disguised as a rocket ship.
Caitlin Mikheal was among those kitted out to enter fashions on the field but the rain, which delayed her train and caused her to miss registration, had other ideas.
As of 2pm she had not watched any racing, and did not plan to.
“I think people would come here without the horses, I don’t think anyone actually comes to see the horses,” she says. “It’s all about the fashion. It’s just a shame about the horses, to be honest.”
Earlier, at the parade ground, Geoff Mether voices some concerns about the ethics of attending a horse racing event – he has two rescue greyhounds, and wouldn’t dream of going to watch a greyhound race – but says he “didn’t think about it before I came”.
Milano Imani did manage to arrive in time to register for fashions on the field, but did not place, despite spending more than 100 hours making her 1940s-style dress, including baking pleats in the oven to make them set.
For others the day was not about fashion, but friendship. Leigha and Judy Lawlor travelled down from Lismore with their friend Margaret Smith. They wore matching pink because Smith is battling cancer.
“I am going through chemotherapy, and they are supporting me,” Smith says. “It has been seven years in remission but I had to start again … I am going to beat it again.”
The friends travelled on the same cruise ship as Stephen and Judith Woodey, who are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary.
“It has been a bit frustrating not sitting down because I am used to my comforts, but otherwise it’s fun,” says Judith. She does not know if any of her early bets, drawn for her by the cruise organisers, have been successful.
“We might be rich and not know it,” she says.
Around the back of the grandstand, near the betting windows, another group of friends who dubbed themselves the “dirty birds” joyfully pose for selfies around various brightly suited men.
They have chosen a showgirls theme this year, with added bum-bags as a modern and practical twist.
Brooke Kirkhan explains the name. “Well, we were the classy birds, but now that these [she shakes a shakes champagne flute] have arrived we are the dirty birds,” she says.
Also in high demand for selfies was drag queen Vin Tage, whose weary partner explains: “We have just got here now and this is the seventh photo.”
Mether and friend Brendan Royle are wearing jockey costumes that come complete with aplush horse and a dominatrix whip, due to some confusion at the costume shop over what they had requested whips for.
The RSPCA was encouraging racegoers to wear badges that said “Love parties, hate whips,” to protest against current race rules that allow a certain number of hits with a padded whip during a race, but no such badges were in evidence.
Those with animal welfare concerns perhaps stay away or stage a protest. At the track it is good times only – for the crowd at least. – Guardian service