The Race

The Race.


Black Caviar’s got me thinking.


When I was younger I rode a racehorse bareback in the Snowy Mountains, racing cattle horses through the bush. It felt likes something mighty, graceful. It didn’t gallop, it flew, then landed to fly again.

Of course I fell, at speed. Twice. Landed in snow and mud. Broke my balls. Got back on. The day was all about not backing down to that cattleman or his mates, and idiot pride.

I never liked racing, though. Not on the track. I wasn’t involved. Gambling destroyed two family member’s lives.

When I watched, I saw one horse winning, others not. Everybody was taking credit or blame for something they could never be. They could breed it well, train it, give it the whip, rub its neck, but not BE it.

Not crash with the thunder of its hooves.

Despite this, I was always jealous of hard-core punters. The ones you found at the track, with their punter’s hats, and rolly smokes. The long jackets and battered form guides. They breathed it. Racing. Its smells, its tastes. Its weathers, atmospheres. They spoke its language, and lived its ebbs and flows.

Wine collecting, genuine footy fanatics, whatever. I’m envious of the obsessed. They have their own world, a secret, complex language to walk through like giants. They have that something to hate and love.

I read a short story by the boozer poet, Charles Bckowski, about a day at the track. He lived for it. I was fascinated. The yarn taught me, no matter the topic, to give people knowledge. Show them something, learn them something, even if you’re a bum.

I knew I’d have to immerse in racing to love it, or not at all, but had a thousand other passions and addictions, and let it slide.


There was, though, this one time.


I was a kid, at my mate’s house, on my morning paper-round bike. He lived in the good suburbs. It had taken two hours to ride there.

The Melbourne Cup was on, and his home was near Caulfield, so he got his Dad’s bike, and we went for a cruise. Who knows what we were expecting? A party in the streets? Big wooden horses filled with illegal bookies? Balloons shaped like Think Big? Caufield was racing heartland, wasn’t it?

The place was a ghost town.

Somehow, we climbed into the actual racetrack. The place seemed empty. I ran half a lap in the race’s honour before somebody at a function inside chased us out.

“What were you thinking?” my mate said. “My dad will kill me.”

“Doubt it,” I told him. His Dad wasn’t the sort to really care.

We took off again, not far from the race’s start.

“This feels like that time we went down to check out the ocean when it had been raining hard for two days,” my mate called.

I remembered it well. We got there. The ocean wasn’t looming over us like a skyscraper. Cars weren’t being swept away, sharks weren’t sweeping into supermarkets. The sea was still wet, still there.

“Let’s get somewhere to hear the race,” he said, so we rode in circles, no idea where to go, or even, by now, where we were.


I tried to brass my way into a pub. It had a good crowd of blokes, not one woman to be seen. Everybody was smoking.

“What’s the go?” the barman asked.

I remembered he had a big, fat mo and small beard. Somehow, he made facial hair look easy.

“I’m looking for my Dad,” I said, but when I called my mate in he kicked us both out.


Drifting once more through the rolling, never ending backstreets of middle class Australia, I gradually noticed one in five houses had a cluster of cars around it. The smell of barbies drifted out from open garages packed with thongs, beer, and radios.

Car radios, stereo radios, trannies, whatever, bubbling away like the backwash of waves.

“Five more minutes! We’ve got to get somewhere!” my mate stressed.

He was pissing me off. We didn’t know a horse’s name, we hadn’t placed a bet, why give a damn? It felt like the worst of the mob mentality. Everybody else is excited, so I have to be, too! Not sure what for, but, geez, look at me bounce! I’m not an outsider! I belong, I belong!

As the Melbourne Cup got closer, one-by-one, the radios got louder. Garage after garage, the talk became a buzz, zooting past our ears. We were going to miss it.

Then, the race was on.


Volume up, house after house, full bore.

We rode, rising and falling through dips and curves, surrounded by this brilliant echo of a race call, hearing every horse’s name, every word, the roar of the crowd. It surrounded us.

It filled the air.

And we knew it would be, suburb after suburb after suburb, across a nation, it. The love of the Cup was real, because it was ours.

We rode through the smell of fat, sizzling sausages as fast as we could, bikes gliding, taking each other on. My mate and I were in that race. It followed us, was in our ears and the wind and our hair. Something Australian.


Something superb.


  1. Andrew Starkie says


    there’s something about horse racing that taps into our national psychey. Maybe because it’s such a part of our colonial past. I’m not sure. But, like many Aussies, I’m no real racing fan, but come Cup Day I’m as nervous and excited as anyone. I always annoy the lady behind the counter in the Reservoir TAB because she has to show me how to place a bet every Cup morning. And with BC’s race two weeks ago, I was beside myself in the last furlong as the other horses closed in on her.

    Spoke to Jack R a few weeks ago. He’s going well up north.

  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Yeah, cheers Stark. We’ve had a few drunken chats ourselves. The boys are gunna do a show in Tassie at my footy club at some point.

    Race was better that way. more drama!

  3. Malby Dangles says

    Great Matty! Never miss this race but don’t catch much else throughout the year. I always have found it curious that Melbourne uses a precious public holiday for a horserace. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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