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Melbourne Cup 2002: the race retains its popularity against the odds.

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Tuesday 5 November 2002


Melbourne Cup 2002: the race retains its popularity against the odds.


MARK COLVIN: It wasn't all emotion at Flemington today, there were 120,000 people at Flemington for the cup this year, another huge crowd for a race that seems to get more popular each year. But it's hard to explain why.


For most of them, it seems, it's the only time of the year they even look at a horse, let alone back one. Perhaps it's the sniff of Melbourne summer that does it, because each year, thousands of Melburnians dress themselves in their finest and hop on the train for a day at races. But very few of them look as good by the end of the day, as Ben Knight reports.


[Sound of loudspeaker on train station]


BEN KNIGHT: Today was a public holiday in Melbourne, but it was rush hour this morning at Flinders St. station just the same. The crowds on platform 8 looked resplendent, gentlemen in hats and ladies in frocks, all smiling, all coherent.


You wonder just how long it would last. Well, not long as it turned out. On entering the course just after 10 o'clock, I saw one well-oiled racegoer lurch to the right and make an unscheduled visit to Flemington's rose bushes.


Cup day is party day, the race meeting for those who don't go to the races. But it's still an event, and they travel a long way to get here.


VOX POP: I live in the Western suburbs of Sydney, grew up going to the races with my mum, sort of fell in love with the horses. You can see I'm the right height to be a jockey, but I've got a bit too much around the waist [chuckles].


BEN KNIGHT: So this is your first Melbourne Cup?


VOX POP: Oh yeah. I'm really excited, yeah. Watching it at home every year, I've never worked a Melbourne Cup day, I don't intend to, but this year I went down here for it with the family. I'm really excited.


BEN KNIGHT: At least he looked the part, with a yellow rose in his lapel and a pair of binoculars in hand, but for some reason cup day has also become fancy dress day.


VOX POP: I saw Elvis - lots of Elvises, and lots of men in, well, very short skirts.


BEN KNIGHT: How does that grab you?


VOX POP: It certainly doesn't grab me. I'm sure it grabs a few people [laughs].


BEN KNIGHT: And for some reason there's a growing tradition for young men to dress identically, be it Hawaiian shirts, space suits or a slinky off the shoulder number.


VOX POP: Once you find an outfit that's going to win you the best dress at the Cup, why wouldn't your f riends jump on board?


BEN KNIGHT: It was hard to argue with him. In fact, it wasn't easy having a conversation with him. But of course, it's very different in the members' enclosure, where they still carry the race book and the form guide.


But on the rails, they're more likely to be carrying a drink in each hand, and no one seems to mind that much. Certainly not the Victoria Racing Club, who've actively targeted a younger crowd in recent years. Senator Robert Ray is one of those who believe it's changed the feel of cup day.


ROBERT RAY: For a lot of people, yeah, it's a sort of a social day, I'm sure, to catch up with people. But it's also changed in the nature over the years. It's not quite as pleasant, I don't think, now.


BEN KNIGHT: What's different?


ROBERT RAY: Too much grog.


MARK COLVIN: Senator Robert Ray, talking to Ben Knight there.