I just returned from an incredible three week vacation in Australia.
Incredible. It was filled with so many highlights that I could probably start a new blog, devoted solely to my three weeks in Down Under.
It’s the most fun I’ve had since I wallowed in a horse drenched week at the World Equestrian Games.
The Aussies are horse folk. The whole country loves horses. Tuesday, 5 November, was the Melbourne Cup and if you think the state of Kentucky makes a big deal of the Kentucky Derby, magnify that tenfold and it still doesn’t reach the same heights as the Cup does in Oz.
Everyone was talking the Cup. Everyone had a favorite. The papers were FULL of Cup talk-for the three weeks that I was there.
What I loved was that the race coverage was about the HORSES. The trainers, of course were interviewed. At length, but the Aussies know who runs the race-the horse.
I am so disgusted with the way TV covers the Triple Crown in the US. CBS devotes hours of time to the people only slightly involved with the horse running the race. They pay so much attention to the ‘human interest’ side of horse racing that the animal involved is almost an after thought. In the last several years, CBS has turned the Kentucky Derby into a fashion show, a sitcom, a shameless pandering to the rich and famous, a place for basketball or football players to yell “riders up” (even if they have no idea whatsoever what that means), and a sob story featuring anybody with a sad story and a connection-no matter how specious or farfetched-to one of the horses in the race.
But the horse? Pfft. CBS forgets all about the horses.
It’s enough to make this horse lover barf. I don’t even watch the Derby anymore. I can’t bear it. The only celebrities I want to see are the equine ones.
It was so refreshing to see, first hand, that the Aussies, at least, have their head screwed on right.
Every decent sized town we went through in Queensland had a turf club-with a track.
I spoke with folks who owned thoroughbreds (and quarter horses) and raced them-as a hobby. They didn’t care if the horse won a lot of money-they raced them for FUN.
They treat their race horses (they call them gallopers) like they’re living, breathing creatures, with needs and feelings. One woman told me she uses her racing thoroughbred stallion to cut cattle. “He’s not born to it like my Quarter Horse is, but he still loves it.” she said.
They don’t drug their racehorses. In the 2013 Kentucky Derby, EVERY horse was running on Lasix/Bute. The Sheik Mohammed Maktoum, owner of Godolphin Stables, didn’t want to run his horse on Lasix but was forced to, because all the other horses in the Derby were on drugs. It’s almost obscene how we Americans insist that a TB can’t run without drugs in his system.
It’s even more obscene that some trainers/owners insist that running a horse any further than a mile and a quarter will kill the horse. Yet the Aussies have figured out that one can train a horse to run any distance, as long as it’s not at 50 mph.
Their horses are treated like HORSES. They hack them out-on the beach. Here’s a picture of Fiorente, the ultimate winner, being ridden in the ocean surf.
They ride them in groups, even with the horses they’re going to compete against. They let them roll in the sand after a workout. They let them relax in open paddocks, where they can kick and buck and fart, rather than stick them in a stall for the vast majority of the day. They don’t race the horses until they break down or wear out. They give the horse a chance to rest and recuperate, which explains why Dunaden, (my favorite, who ended up in 11th place), a syndicated seven year old stallion who’s already bred mares, is still racing.
The Cup is a handicapped race for all ages and gender of horse. Verema, a filly, (who sad to say, had to be put down after breaking down in the race) ran alongside colts and stallions.
They don’t treat their racehorses like our big racing stables do, as nothing but expensive machines that are expected to perform and make money, and if they don’t, get rid of them. We run the horses too fast, too hard, too young until they break down and then sell them knowing only four things: how to break from a gate, run fast, change leads, turn left.
Some of our TB’s come off the track not even knowing that a fence can’t be run through.
Some of our TB’s have such horrible ground manners that they injure their handlers (i.e. Tabasco Cat, such a hot headed, dangerous horse that he ran down D. Wayne Lucas’s son, putting him in the hospital. Tabasco Cat did it out of meanness, not fear.)
I was on a 777 back to the States when the Cup was raced. When I boarded the plane, I asked, were they going to broadcast the Cup on the nifty little TV’s on the plane? I’m so sorry, no, we won’t get a live feed, I was told, and the flight attendant looked most unhappy. But I could ask later who won the race. They didn’t want to put it out over the intercom, some passengers may not want to have it spoiled.
Later, I did ask who won the race. The young flight attendant (they still call them stewardesses on Virgin Australia) told me who the winning trainer was. (Gai Waterhouses’ Fiorente won it.) She was so tickled, because Waterhouse was a local girl, so to speak, and had tried for the Cup for many years.
But the fact that one, the girl knew the name of the TRAINER, not just the name of the horse, tells you how big the Melbourne Cup is to all Aussies.
Because this is a horse oriented blog, I won’t go on and on and ON about Australia, but I have to tell you, should you ever want to go to someplace fabulous, Oz is it. I must relate this one piece, just to repeat a very neat summation of Australia from an Aussies point of view.
We stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast (Mossman Gorge B&B in North Queensland, if you want to know, and I highly recommend it.) Mandy, the owner and hostess, told us that moviemakers who want jungle scenes come to Mossman. For instance, the remake of “South Pacific” with Glenn Close (I must interject here, I am not a movie fan, didn’t see the aforementioned movie, and am aghast at how the rest of the world sees us Americans through the horribly sexualized, violent, biased and screwed up lens of Hollywood).
She named half a dozen others that had been shot right there in the lovely valley in front of her home. I asked her, why do they shoot so many movies here?
She said, “Because we speak English, and our toilets are clean.”