They call it the race that stops the nation.
But a more accurate description of the Melbourne Cup these days might be the race that is of passing interest to fewer Australians than ever before.
At least, that's the way it's felt the last few years.
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Generations of Australians were weaned on stories of Phar Lap, Rain Lover and Think Big thundering down the Flemington straight on the first Tuesday in November.
If you lived outside Victoria, where the day remains a public holiday, workplaces ground to a halt at lunchtime and didn't resume until 9am the next day.
Clubs and pubs were packed to standing room only.
TABs were full of overflowing once-a-year punters, who took half an hour to work out how to fill in a win and place slip with their monstrous $2 wagers.
Failure to enter the office sweepstake was a sackable offence.
In schools, TVs were wheeled into classrooms so impressionable eight-year-olds could cheer the field around the 3200m journey.
Where else in the world would school kids be encouraged to down the books to watch a horse race?
A trip to Flemington was on the bucket list of every Australian sports fan, even though you were lucky to see anything on four legs through the throng of drunks in ill-fitted suits and barely-there cocktail dresses.
But the Cup has never been under greater threat in its 160-year history than right now.
Not a threat of disappearing altogether but a threat of sliding more and more into irrelevance with each passing year.
As one punting mate told me this week: "How many people do you think would be into the Melbourne Cup if it was on a Saturday?"
It's a good point.
#nuptotheCup trends ahead of Melbourne Cup
Racing NSW's aggressive assault on Victoria's established spring racing calendar has no doubt made a dent on the Cup carnival.
The Everest, Invitation and Kosciuszko have captured the attention of race goers, the exciting sprint format and OTT promotion making the handicapped, two-mile Melbourne Cup look slow, ponderous and a little old-fashioned in comparison.
Saturday's Golden Eagle at Rosehill averaged 210,000 TV viewers nationally while over on Channel 10 only 128,000 tuned in to coverage of Victoria's Derby Day.
Some venues are eschewing Melbourne Cup lunches, partly due to lack of interest brought about by a change in attitude to the sport of kings.
Six of the last eight Melbourne Cups have ended in tragedy. Commercial horse racing is inhumane, deadly and incompatible with animal welfare. Join me and many thousands of people saying ‘nup’ to the cup, and register for my online rally on Tuesday: https://t.co/a7uuYaYEdV pic.twitter.com/y8Gg1XDjny
— Mehreen Faruqi (@MehreenFaruqi) October 31, 2021
Protests are planned outside major race tracks in all our capital cities on Tuesday, with the #nuptotheCup movement gaining momentum over the years.
They are encouraging protestors to pack a Vegan lunch and brandish signs with anti-racing messages, suggesting Nup to the Cup, Horse Racing Kills or You Bet They Die as possible slogans.
Companies sponsoring the carnival – along with host broadcaster Channel 10 – have been targeted for boycotts.
The group wants all horse-racing banned, but is particularly keen to end the Cup after seven race-related deaths in as many years.
"Together we will speak out against the toxic gambling-fuelled horse racing industry and show the people that commercial racing and carnivals of cruelty like the Melbourne Cup must end," its mission statement reads.
"Our presence is important to demonstrate to race goers and other passers-by that you can still have a good time without engaging in animal abuse."
Talk about a mood killer.
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