Tuesday, November 6, 2012

6 November 2012: two races that will stop two nations

On Tuesday, 6 November all eyes in the US and Australia will focus on a race that will likely come down to the wire. In the US, that race is the Presidential Election. In Australia, it is the Melbourne Cup.

A horse race dating back to 1861, the Melbourne Cup is now one of the most important events on the Melbourne social calendar. Anybody who is anybody will be there, dressed to the nines - with the focus on the women's hats. In the state of Victoria, Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday - no work, no school. Across the rest of Australia, people often wear fancy dress to work and have a small party at race time.

I know we are talking about politics vs. horse racing, but the two are not as different as you might think.
  • The participants in both have been preparing months - if not years - for this single day.
  • The jockeys and the presidential candidates are the "front men" for their respective teams/political parties.
  • Both races are marred by controversy. In the Melbourne Cup, one of the jockeys is under investigation for betting on another horse and jockey in 2010. In the US presidential race, controversy is the name of the game.
  • The amount of money spent by those involved is obscene - a few days ago, it was reported that the presidential candidates have spent $1 BILLION on a million advertisements (most of them negative); last year, Australians bet more than $140 million on a race that only lasts 4 minutes. As Sarah McKenzie points out, "To put this in perspective, Austrlia's total funding in response to the East Africa Food Crisis, in which over 13 million people are at risk, currently sits at $128 million."

Of course, there are also similarities that are far more shallow. For example, all fashion eyes have been and will be focussing on what the women wear.

Nicole Kidman at Derby Day in Melbourne over the weekend (photo:  Getty Images)
First Lady Michelle Obama at the DNC (photo: usmagazine.com)
Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Romney and the fashion faux pas at the Presidential Debate (photo: usmagazine.com)
And you have to admit that the names of this years' presidential candidates are unique (I'll bet George Washington never thought we'd be voting on guys named Barack and Mitt) - not unlike the names of the horses in this year's Melbourne Cup field: Dunaden, Jakkalberry, Voila Ici, Zabellionaire, and My Quest for Peace. (I don't think the Romneys have a horse in the Melbourne Cup - that would be way too much excitement in the Romney house - or is that houses?? - for one day!)

Betting on the outcome of the US presidential election is illegal in the United States. But not in Australia. Right now, one Australian betting website has the odds in favor of the Democrats: an Obama win pays $1.22, while a Romney win will pay out $4.33. In the other race, Dunaden is the odds-on favorite for the Melbourne cup.

The second favorite to win is Americain.

How apropos.

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