Melbourne Cup visits Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2005, 12:00am

The Melbourne Cup, one of the great sporting trophies of the racing world, has arrived in Hong Kong in its new role as a cultural, business and tourism envoy for the Australian city that has been its home for 145 years.

Since the fabled racehorse Archer walked 800km from the New South Wales city of Nowra to take the inaugural Melbourne Cup in 1861, the race has developed a folklore and mystique of such depth that accurately capturing its essence is a task beyond mere mortal wordsmiths.

The Cup has never been cocooned, but it has undergone its metamorphosis nonetheless, maturing from an annual domestic highlight of the Australian racing calendar into what it is today - the world's two-mile turf championship with a growing global flavour.

At home, it is described as 'the race that stops a nation'. In Victoria, it's declared a public holiday. In other states, children at school will be involved in a sweep to give them a taste of Cup culture, adults attend Cup parties everywhere and even business sessions of parliament comes to a halt.

'A jockey might win 100 Group One races, but it won't do as much for his public recognition as winning a single Melbourne Cup,' champion jockey Damien Oliver said yesterday.

The new-look Melbourne Cup has been embraced by Emirates Airlines which, with the Victoria Racing Club and another strategic partner, the William Inglis organisation, is bringing a the so-called loving cup to the world.

Tonight in the Harbour View Ballroom at the Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong's racing industry leaders, together with captains of business and tourism, will be among the first people to see the 2005 Melbourne Cup, valued at $464,900.

With an increasing number of international runners competing in the four-day carnival each year, the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) sees overseas visitors as an increasingly important customer segment.

'Last year, 20,000 international visitors came to Victoria for the Melbourne Cup carnival,' said VRC deputy chief executive, Sue Lloyd-Williams.

'We have received wonderful feedback about our visit to Hong Kong and it is clear that Hong Kong residents view the Melbourne Cup as a international premier event.'

The magic of this amazing horse racing and cultural festival is steadily flowing into more and corners of the planet, courtesy of the leverage of television. In 2004, the Melbourne Cup was televised to 171 countries with an estimated audience of 700 million viewers.

The Melbourne Cup is working its way around the world, rather like an Olympic torch, and lighting up hundreds of dreams along the way. The Cup caravan has already been to England, Ireland, Dubai and Singapore and will soon begin a month-long tour of territory closer to home - Australia and New Zealand.

It was goldsmith James Steeth, apparently inspired by the art nouveau moment, who shaped the distinctive three-handled Melbourne Cup in 1919. Three years later, the first three-handled 'loving cup' was made in 18 carat gold and was then valued at A$200, with the modern Melbourne Cup now worth 400 times that original amount.

Like Hong Kong's major racing track at Sha Tin, Flemington racecourse has had to grow with the times. Since 2000, the Victoria Racing Club has injected more than $420 million into improving the standards of amenities at Flemington in order to meet with the expectations of a market that's growing in sophistication.