It’s known as ‘the race that stops the nation’. In Victoria where the Melbourne Cup is held, it’s an official public holiday and across the nation, this is the one race where even those who wouldn’t know which way up to hold a form guide, will place a bet.
While it’s not a public holiday in NSW, that doesn’t mean the race is ignored. Almost all businesses include some sort of a Melbourne Cup event, even if it’s just wheeling in a TV to watch the 3pm race.
At Drew’s office there’s an annual Melbourne Cup Lunch that’s cooked exclusively (because he doesn’t allow help), by one of the directors, and there’s TVs and sweepstakes. And this year I wasn’t left off the invite list.
The room had been reconfigured and decorated by the receptionist and the cook was in the tiny kitchen getting ready to prepare a sit-down lunch for 18. Very definitely the office has a kitchen that creates massive challenges for anyone trying to cook for that many people.
The lunch was a little like a trip around the world with a lot of cuisines represented. After a glass of champagne we sat down to falafels with French onion dip. A Lebanese starter with a touch of France.
Then we had pork dumplings with a lovely dipping sauce. This was a touch of China.
Next there was a seafood salad that looked very pretty on the plate and was certainly very popular with not a scrap leftover. I’d call this an American salad.
Then we had a multi-coloured quinoa salad with chorizo, gherkins and haloumi. I’d call this an Italian dish with a touch of Greece.
The next course was a stir-fry dish of chicken thigh fillets with potatoes, cauliflower, shallots and chillies with pearl couscous. I’d call this a touch of Thailand.
The highlight of the meal was very definitely the extremely tender and very juicy lamb cutlets that had been pan-fried for three minutes on each side and sprinkled with a very fine dusting of salt and pepper. This was a blend of Aussie and Chinese cuisines. I think everyone agreed that the lamb cutlets were the highlight of the meal.
The cook was off-duty for dessert. One of the partner’s wives brought in a lemon meringue pie she’d made. I’d call this a touch of New Zealand if the Americans don’t mind.
And one of the staff brought in a ricotta cheesecake that had been flown in from Italy that morning. It’s called a Torta Ricotta e Pere and has a ground hazelnut base, a layer of diced pears, then a ricotta and cream filling. It was a sensational cheesecake that was very light in texture and sugar.
And while the lunch was sensational and enormous credit to the cook who produced all these dishes in a space no bigger than a closet, the actual highlight of the day was very definitely the race. And I wouldn’t normally say that because I’m not a regular down at the track but this race was very different.
While in the past few years the race has been over-run with foreign horses, this year a Kiwi-born horse named Prince of Penzance entered the race with an unknown female jockey, Michelle Payne. The race had never before been won by a female jockey. The strapper for ‘Prince of Penzance’ was Michelle’s brother, Stevie, who has down syndrome.
The night before the race Michelle dreamt she won the Melbourne Cup. On the morning of the race, Stevie had to draw out the gate number for his sister’s horse. He drew Gate Number One and he and his sister grew in confidence. But not the public. The odds of ‘Prince of Penzance’ winning the Melbourne Cup were a hundred to one.
With 300mtrs to go, Michelle said Prince just took off and he blazed ahead of the pack and took out the Melbourne Cup. A New Zealand born horse that was trained in an unknown town near Ballarat in Victoria, with owners who trusted a female jockey, on a horse that didn’t even come close to being in the Top 10 of horses with a chance of winning, took out the Melbourne Cup with odds of a hundred to one.
And then all eyes were on the jockey. Everyone wanted to know who she was. Michelle is the 10th child born to Paddy Payne and his wife. When Michelle was six months old her mother was killed in a car accident leaving Paddy to raise the 10 children on his own. Her father was a horse trainer and while he instilled in the children a good work ethic, he didn’t actually want any of them to become jockeys. But four of them did and in 2007 Paddy’s daughter, Brigid, died from the result of a fall from a horse. In 2013 Michelle suffered a fall where she had a fractured skull and bruising on the brain and wondered if she should give up the sport. She decided to stay in the sport for a further two years and I bet she’s glad she did.
Just days after the event, Michelle is the new darling of female sports stars in Australia. There is so much to love about this story; from her humble beginnings, growing up without a mother, becoming a jockey in a sport dominated by men, suffering an accident that nearly ended her career, the loss of her sister, fighting for the chance to ride in the Melbourne Cup when no female had ever won before, winning the race on a horse with odds 100/1 and then in her media interviews giving credit to her down syndrome brother. It’s a story that reads like a movie script and I’m quite sure we’re going to see and hear a lot more of Michelle Payne in the years ahead.
And did I bet? Well I bought three tickets in the staff sweepstake and one of them came in third. In total I gambled $6.00 and won back $8.00.
All in all, not a bad Tuesday.