This year was the first year in a long time I didn’t perform for Melbourne Cup. I hate Cup day. Not for the reason that most others do – cruelty to horses. At least they have a lobby group of caring animal activists. Melbourne Cup is also cruelty for comedians. It’s probably the hardest gig on the calendar. Drunk women in stupid hats. Is there no greater terror?
Every year I yell into a scratchy microphone to a bunch of people comparing fascinators in a beergarden who wish I’d just shut up. I wish I would just shut up too, but I’ve been paid three times my usual fee to turn up. That’s why I’m here and why I am wearing a stupid hat and high shoes when I’ve just had breakfast. Champagne is not a listening drug. It’s a talk shit about yourself at the same time as someone else drug.
I trip on the raffle on the way down the stairs. I’ve hurt my leg. I’m down. It’s hopeless. A hush comes over the crowd. There’s only one way out here, for my own good. So I don’t perpetuate the horror any further, the bar manager collects his rifle from under the bar and walks towards me. He looks deeply into my mournful eyes and pop. He shoots me. I’m gone.
Another horse died the other day. It was the pre race favourite. The gravitas of the day was underpinned by the death of this magnificent beast. The fascinators all look a bit trite after that, as does the champagne and the socially sanctioned and acceptable gambling. Shit, they even do sweepstakes in primary school classrooms!
But they don’t shoot horses for fun. When a horse has a fetlock injury it’s serious. That massive animal holds itself on such light bones that the wrong footing can suddenly cause the bone to shatter. Recovery rates are low – usually 10–20 per cent, with the animal experiencing extreme trauma and suffering. Of course, a horse can experience this life threatening leg injury in a paddock or in non-competitive situation, but it tends to happen more in racing. Obviously being whipped in a frenzied pack adds to the risk. It’s not the only injury incurred by these horses, ridden specifically for our pleasure. They can also die from cardiac issues and from bleeds.
Over a 12-month period 116 horses have been killed on the track – the data collection goes from 1 August 2019 – to this year. 1 August is the ‘Horses Birthday’ – the day that Southern Hemisphere racing celebrates to mark how old a horse is. On average one horse dies on Australian racetracks every three days. It makes the hats and the champagne and the luncheons a bit ghoulish. I’ve taken time to be anti-horse racing. It’s not a simple issue. People who have horses and work with them – jockeys, strappers, owners all generally love them – a lot. The track is a mythical place; I grew up down the road from the race track – we had a racehorse and I would often slip down to watch our horse train or go to his stable and pat the long white stripe on his forehead. My father died when I was six, and Fleckson was all we had left. We could only afford to keep him if he won his races – a 26 year old widow can’t generally keep her head above water in the racing industry. It’s expensive for a country town hairdresser with two small children.
I wanted us to keep him. I remember being trackside watching a race with my mother and my aunt – I remember the heightened emotion when he won. Everyone was crying. We got to keep him until the next race. He was sold not long after, but it’s hard to forget the smell, the drama, and the keen emotion of the track. But, competition racing feels wrong. Perhaps if we want to gamble on the outcome of a silly race it is time for some re-imagining. Perhaps something like what I created at a Melbourne cup one year when the drunk women were shitting me; I said, after the cup we have one last race. I took the audience outside onto a square patch of grass. I asked six solid looking blokes if they were happy to be horses, then I got some drunk chicks in hats to jump on and jockey them. Then we raced them. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen. Maybe next year for Melbourne cup let’s put the punters on the racetrack and leave the horses in the paddock?