“Victoria Racing Club barman Les Taggart’s smiling face greets connections as they arrive in his Flemington bar to celebrate a win”, says the Sunday Age.
The Flemington Winners Bar, however, certainly doesn’t look like a place for winners; what, with the “cream carpet and white walls spotted with old racing photographs”. The carpet used to be white like the walls but with any organisation that relies on volunteers the first casualty is the decor.
Old Les has been smiling and serving winners (Moet on a Boags beer mat) for seven years now. Who are these owner connections poor Les has been pandering to all these years? The ones you see in the paper after their horse has won – a group of them all in the same suits and wearing the same sunglasses (Who owns how much? Who is connected to who? Who cares?). The business sections of the newspapers don’t show these connector types – saturated in oily ambition , their skin the colour and texture of the Duck a l’Orange they’ve just ingested, open mouths laughing off the Billecart Salmon Rose – when their share prices have risen. So why show them here?
Now don’t get me wrong about enjoying great food and wine. On one rare occasion I had the time and money to fly anywhere I got upgraded from 24B Economy to 1A Business Class – it must have been my shirt because it’s the lavender colour eveyone has been wearing to the races over the last couple of years.
I sit back with a sigh and after introductions with the business chap in 1B (1B:”Hello, I’m in mining and horse racing. What do you do?” Me: “Hi I’m in… house husbandry”.) I order the charcuterie plate and a glass of full bodied chardonnay – which is difficult to find in this time of ‘crisp’, ‘flinty dry’ and ‘acidic backboned’ white wines. If it’s a chablis you’re after, buy a chablis.
Just as the steward approaches with my order I realise I can’t open my table. 1B had opened his, like a Transformers toy, in a blur of moving parts and angled surfaces. He finished his bottle of red in a blur too.
“Flemington is the home of tradition and the Melbourne Cup Carnival” proclaims the VRC website. According to the Oxford Dictionary carnivals traditionally referred to the “festivities and riotous revelry” before the fasting period of Lent. The prospect of fasting must explain why getting p*ssed on Melbourne Cup day isn’t enough for some people so they also get p*ssed at the Victoria Derby, the Mackinnon Stakes and the VRC Oaks.
Carnival time also included a circus and the Flemington spectacle is certainly that. There are the wonderful aspects of a circus: the glorious colour of the racing silks and turf, the athleticism and the NOISE generated by these magnificent animals.
Germaine Greer understood the magnificence of horses: “The male is beautiful, his cheeks are smooth, his body near hairless, his head full-maned, his eyes clear, his manner shy and his bell flat”. Of course, if Germaine was a man she would be serving time for propagating paedophilia because she was referring to boys!
Whether it is also a sport has been fiercely debated. Are jockeys athletes, or small men who steam themselves dry and hang on for dear life?
Perhaps the role of jockey is downplayed because we just can’t bear having to hear them talk after a race. Especially when one of them is being interviewed by another in a helmet with an antenna.
Another unbearable sound is that of the radio race caller. That nasal drone: “Aaand theeiir raaacing nooow…” has been floating out of windows for what seems an eternity (is it the same chap or do they train them to sound like that?). If only we could listen to Peter Cook instead: “It’s Big Tits from Vagina with the Prick tucked in behind these two. Then comes the blinkered Buttocks being pressed by the Poof, and trailing the field is Arsehole”.
Are trainers the equivalent of coaches? If sport is a mental and physical contest can horses be classed as athletes?
The clowns of the circus are those stumbling around in high heels. In the carpark that they’ve never left and with all those teeth and big eyes (those who don’t have big eyes wear big sunglasses) they vomit flute-loads of Yellow sparkling while their male counterparts disgorge themselves over the guard-rail.
While the training staff, jockeys and the equine performers should get all the accolades, I wish the ones with all the money were people like old Les Taggart.