Melbourne serves up Cup of good cheer

It gave a warm and fuzzy feeling, on a snarling and mean-spirited election day in America, to see the vivid star-spangled red, white, and blue silks being cheered wildly by a crowd of 120,000 at a horse race half a world away. That was the scene at one of the truly great horse races in the world, the Melbourne Cup at the Flemington course in Australia’s most intriguing city. This is the Kentucky Derby magnified, in a city almost three times bigger than Louisville, before a crowd whipped with the fervor and flavor of an all-encompassing international spectacle. And there they were, screaming in joy for a horse named Americain, bought here in the States last February for $250,000 by two Australian businessmen named Gerry Ryan and Kevin Bamford, trained by a French veteran named Alain de Royer-Dupre and ridden in patient continental European style by Royer-Dupre’s compatriot Gerald Mosse. Winning big races is nothing new for Royer-Dupre. He has won France’s greatest Thoroughbred race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but he was wise enough to look to Australia’s top trainer, Bart Cummings, for guidance on prepping Americain. Cummings has won 12 Melbourne Cups, including a victory in the Geelong Cup just 13 days before the big one in Melbourne. Royer-Dupre followed his own adage – when in Australia do as the Australians do – and once Americain’s owners talked him into sending the horse to the other side of the world to race Royer-Dupre, like Cummings, started him in the Geelong just two weeks before the Melbourne, and won it. The Melbourne Cup is far more historic than the Kentucky Derby, Tuesday’s edition being its 150th renewal, and the first ever won by a French-owned horse, with an American name to boot. Mosse emulated the post-World Series San Francisco Giants in his jubilant triumph. There may have been restraint in his ride, waiting until the stretch turn to move, but there was none in his celebration. He waved and beamed and bellowed, and he fulfilled the promise made to a souvenir seller outside the track when he arrived for the day’s festivities. The vendor had offered Mosse a miniature Melbourne Cup lapel pin, and the jockey turned it down with thanks. “I told him I was going to win my own later in the day,” he said, and proceeded to do it by running down the heavily favored So You Think in the final furlongs of the two-mile grind. Mosse’s coolness and confidence did not obstruct his manners, and he thanked the huge crowd for their kisses and kindness. If you have not been to Melbourne for the Cup, there is no way fully to appreciate the totality of the event. Mosse was no exception. “When you come here to Australia and see for yourself, it is truly unbelievable,” he said of his first view of the Cup, from the choicest seat in the house. He also thanked his horse, saying Americain, who originally was offered for sale in the United States as a National Hunt stallion, but was sent to Royer-Dupre’s yard at Chantilly and bloomed and blossomed under the French veteran’s training touch, has kept improving all the time.” Mosse added, “He is a very easy ride.” A touch of national pride – American as well as French – welled up watching Mosse return in his brilliant Old Glory silks. Here was a huge crowd of foreigners, full of holiday good cheer, expressing their approval for Americans, the horse and the people for whom it was named, while in America itself slime and lies and loss of self-respect greeted those preparing to cast votes for some who did not deserve to even seek their respect. Cup Day always is a national holiday in Melbourne and Australia. This year it was indeed an American celebration as well. Was it Winston Churchill who first said there was something in a horse that brought out the best in a man, or words to that effect? If it was, the old codger was right again.


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