In 2017, in the (somewhat) progressive climate of Australia it feels that we are more than overdue to surmount the outdated, and honestly monotonous sporting event of horse racing.  Other sporting events that involve humans are relatively understandable; it creates a sense of community via common interests and team-work, the tangibility of one voice, and the idea of working towards a common goal. But watching horses get thrashed by silky suited jockeys is weird in a superiority-complex-kind-of-way, something that needs to stay in 1875 where it first began.

While it’s still a hugely popular event, statistics show that participation and revenues are on the decline. The attendance for the Melbourne Cup hit it’s all time recorded high in 2003 at 122,000 persons, but has been on a steadily declining trajectory since 2010. Last year the attendance was around 97,000 persons which objectively is still a huge amount of people, but not exactly “the race that stops the nation”. In this vein you might as well apply that tagline to this year’s AFL grand final attendee numbers, which clocked in a strikingly similar figure at 100,000 persons.

Contrary to its suggestive name, the Melbourne Cup is not actually a National Sport. Internationals are encouraged to participate, it’s only noteworthy national detail is that it is named ‘Australia’s most prestigious thoroughbred racehorse competition’. Fun fact: Since 2000, only two Australian-bred horses have won the Melbourne Cup and this year there are a flock of competitors travelling from Ireland, the UK and Europe. So, what factors are at play that are keeping this sporting event buoyant?

Money, Money, Money

According to the IER in 2016, The Melbourne Cup was responsible for a 7.8% increase of out-of-state individuals attending the carnival (that’s 80,000 people by the way), and with this is $61 million grossing in commercial accommodation and hospitality industries combined and an added $45 million placed on betting – so I guess you could say it goes alright for Tourism Victoria.

You bet we love to gamble

The Australian Psychological Society published a paper in 2010 regarding gambling and subsequent treatment avenues. In the abstract it states that gambling is “a major entertainment and tourism industry, and a valued source of revenue to government and private enterprise”. The industry is highly regulated and the odds are intended to be stacked against you. One could assume that revenue opportunity is the standalone reason for this events continuous existence, but gambling specifically involves an addictive mentality that horse racing seems to satisfy.

The problematic feature of gambling is that it facilitates an escape from daily stressors because the prospect of a large reward, regardless of whether reinforcement is positive (win) or negative (loss). Generally, being a sports fan allows you to feel deep emotional investment in something that has no actual real life consequence –  however, gambling is deeply intertwined with animal racing, and the consequences therein are in fact real-life.

Fashions On The Field

Over the last 55 years, the event has incorporated a fashion focus into its nucleus.  Last year MYER awarded an $83,000 Lexus to its female fashions winner – it’s a big incentive to participate in the competition and consequently assists in attracting extra attendees to the event. Interestingly, it’s also established itself as “Australia’s largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event”. Statistics have shown throughout recent years that Australians spend roughly $45 million yearly on race fashions and accessories. The economical pulling power alone is astronomical.

We <3 public holidays

Any excuse to take a week day off and get “cultured up”. I mean, Australians get the Queen’s Birthday off, not even the bloody english are afforded that luxury.

It’s a profitable event but it’s good to remember that for every Phar Lap there are hundreds of horses who bypass the racetrack and are sent straight to death.  In 2015, 132 horses died on race courses – that’s one death every 3 days, though a larger statistic from Animals Australia states that 25,000  horses are killed in slaughterhouses every year. Ah, last but not least –  whipping animals is cruel. Studies have shown that horses do indeed feel pain when whipped -a bit hypocritical when we have multiple legislations in place to penalise animal cruelty. Imagine the surplus of happy horses and saddle club kids if we boycotted horse racing and lived happily ever after.

It’s pretty safe to say here that The Melbourne Cup affords minimal gains on Australian culture, and is merely a monetary pursuit under the guise of a cultural sporting event.