Once a year, in the afternoon of the first Tuesday of November, Australia and New Zealand come to a standstill. One of the Australian states marks the big even with a public holiday. Many Australians in other states take the day off work, watching the clock tick down to that critical moment. New Zealanders don’t really get the excuse to take the day off, but this doesn’t mean the event is not recognised. The morning newspapers include a detailed analysis of the key characters, events, and circumstances that might influence its outcome. All day kiwis will discuss it, over the water coolers or in the coffee shops. Millions of dollars will have been placed in bets on the result. Office sweepstakes will have been organised. Even the uninterested get caught up in the hype.
Since I work from home, I join the excitement by listening to National Radio, when experts will have been asked about their predictions throughout the day. Then, at about 2 minutes before 5 pm, I race downstairs and turn on the TV.
All this is for a horse race – the Melbourne Cup, run first in 1861. By the 1930s, a still-famous horse named Phar Lap captured the hopes and dreams of Australians struggling through the Depression years. Typically, Australians claim him as their own. But kiwis know better. This horse came from New Zealand, born only about 20 miles from the farm where I grew up (and where my mother now lives). He remains a national icon on both sides of the Tasman Sea.
I know more critical and sober events are underway on the other side of the world, but for 15 minutes, two nations stop, glued to the course or their TV screens. By about 5.20 pm, champagne corks pop and a night of celebration begins or, if we were on the wrong side of the results, we shrug and go back to our normal lives.
Of course, rivalry between the two nations is always strong. So it is especially sweet when a kiwi horse wins the Cup. For the record, this year NZ-bred horses came second, third and fourth. An American-bred, French-ridden, Melbourne-owned horse won.
And just for fun:
(it starts around 56 seconds in)