Words by Clare Rigden.
Trust me - not ONE person at this year’s Birdcage is actually having a good time.
I’ve been covering the Melbourne Cup Carnival for weekly magazines for around ten years now. Each year I get gussied up, pop on a fascinator and some ridiculously uncomfortable heels and trot on down to the Birdcage at Flemington with my VRC accreditation, a dictaphone and a deep, deep sense of shame.
I’ve long felt uncomfortable about covering the race. My unease started when I met my husband ten years ago and his dad - once a professional jockey - sat me down, wet-eyed and talked me through some of the worst parts of his once-beloved sport.
If you saw Caro Meldrum-Hanna’s report for 7.30, you’ll know what he was talking about - the needless deaths of those beautiful animals; the cruelty at the hands of some trainers; the awful, painful effects the sport can have on both the animals and the jockeys charged with racing them across the line.
It certainly had a deep, lasting effect on Barry. And, after he witnessed the last, senseless killing of one of his beloved horses after a race, that was it for him - he was out. He never rode again. He never attended another meet. And he’s never had anything nice to say about the whole sorry mess since.
And now - I think I’m where he’s at too.
Don’t get me wrong - I’ve loved attending the Birdcage over the years. You simply wouldn’t BELIEVE the delicious things I eaten! And the Mumm champagne I’ve consumed! So much Mumm! Mumm for days! All the Mumm! Honestly - it’s every bit as amazing as you might think to stand in the middle of a custom-decorated marquee eating itty-bitty, teeny-tiny chicken and leek pies prepared by Neil Perry while a heap of horses fling past you.
One year I saw Erykah Badu DJ. That was cool. But here’s the thing - it all LOOKS amazing, but I can hand-on-heart say that not ONE of the celebs attending those marquees is actually, genuinely, like for REAL having a good time.
Controversial, I know, but stay with me.
Sure, it’s heaps of fun getting your hair and makeup done. And sure, everyone loves getting papped as they bip their VIP passes through the barricades to the entrance of The Birdcage, Flemington’s glittering V-VIP area. It means you’re it-and-a-bit. You’ve arrived. You’re A-Grade Important. But then what?
Then it’s just a lot of standing around, pretending to be interested in a race; pretending to care about a sport that is becoming ever-more on-the-nose; pretending not to notice that everyone is sizing you up, sussing you out, looking to see if you’ve got back-fat, and whether your fascinator is a bit “last-year.”
Then there’s people like me, thrusting dictaphones in your face and saying ‘What are you wearing?’ while secretly wishing you’d just give them a good “line” so they can go back to eating itty-bitty pies. These days it’s all about getting the perfect Instagram shot for most invitees. If you’re lucky, the PRs might even let you pop on a pair of white gloves and hold the Cup as it does a victory lap around your tent. Fun? Not so much.
It all just reeks of excess. Too many advertising dollars. Too much at stake. Too little being said about the fact that, really, this is all about people making money off the misery of horses being prodded to go faster; be better; win more.
This is the first year I’m not covering The Cup. This is the first year I won’t be putting on a fascinator and some ridiculously high heels and heading out to Flemington. I doubt the VRC will ever approve my accreditation again after reading this rant.
But honestly - I’m OK with it. And I wish more of those uncomfortable-looking celebs in those tents in The Birdcage would do the same. Take a leaf out of Megan Gale’s book - the one-time Myer ambassador has famously vowed not to attend any Racing events this year. Tay Tay’s out too. They’re both saying Nup to the Cup and so am I.
But god I’ll miss those little pies...
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