Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Summer Solstice

Today is the longest day of the year for us in the Antipodes and the longest night for those in the Northern Hemisphere. Astrologically Capricorn becomes the dominant sign of the zodiac, which is not a particularly friendly sign to those of us born in fire signs.

In Melbourne it is a warm and sunny day and of course it’s only three days to Christmas.

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Edward Gorey Christmas Cat

As usual I’ll be going to my brother’s place for the day and leaving the cats to their own devices. They no doubt will be alarmed by the absence of their slave, but I’ve arranged for a neighbour to attend to their needs in the evening.

More Christmas cheer was to be had at Flemington last Saturday, which I attended to see how my new camera handled the racing scene.

A droll band costumed in Christmassy things were greeting race goers as they entered from the station…


…and the Makybe Diva Statue was bedecked with a Christmas garland

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I only stayed a short time – for three races – and only had one bet which was successful. I was pleased when Taiyoo, a son of Haradasun,  easily won the Comic Court Handicap, a race over 2000 metres. He didn’t pay heaps, but financed my short afternoon at the races.

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Taiyoo returns to scale after winning the Comic Court Handicap

As for the G16 at the races, it’s a pity that I inadvertently stuffed up the White Balance, somehow setting it to underwater mode instead of auto white balance.

There wasn’t much of a crowd so I decided to expand my horizons at the course and walked up beyond the winning post, where I found a spot that was not obscured by the double fencing that restricts one from taking action shots. The photo below was taken from there.

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Bascule, winner of the Primacy Handicap returning to scale.

Despite the stuff up with the white balance, I was quite pleased with the G16’s performance and the photo quality. I do however prefer the continuous shooting mode on my Panasonic as the Canon, despite taking very fast shots, has a lag when processing the images after the fact, and doesn’t give you a live view when shooting in that mode.

As the trains were not scheduled to leave Flemington until 4.55pm, I didn’t fancy hanging around till then, so decided to go home by tram. It certainly is a long walk to the tram stop in Epsom Road – good exercise I suppose – but at least I now know where to go in the future should I need to.

The roses were still in bloom, so I paused on my walk to the tram stop to snap a photo of a rose, marvelling at the extent of the famed rose gardens at Flemington, and how much work it must take to maintain them.


This will be my last post before Christmas, so I wish anyone who reads this a very merry festive occasion.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Camera, new cat (& dog) pics

I’ve just purchased yet another camera. This one is a Canon Powershot G16, an updated model of my old Canon G10 which I purchased in 2008. There was nothing wrong with the Canon G10, it took great photos, but I have to admit it was somewhat sluggish at times when it mattered.

I had been eyeing off the G16 for some months, but resisted buying it, until last week, when Canon were offering it at a discounted price with a generous cash back.  How could I resist!

I put the G10 up for sale on Gumtree and sold it almost instantly. Perhaps my asking price was too low, but I thought $100.00 for a six year old camera was reasonable, and obviously so did the purchaser.

Anyway, I’ve been testing out the G16 and I am really pleased with its performance (lightning fast) and the quality of the photos it produces.

Naturally the resident cats have been my test subjects…

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This photo of Willy was taken early this morning in poor light, but it turned out quite well.

I also tried out the camera on  plants in the garden.

Macro of fuschia (really pleased with the bokeh effect)…



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A friend came around to visit the other day and brought her delightful little dog, Tickle, so I snapped the following photo of her.

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You may well wonder how the cats reacted to having a dog around. Tick is a fairly frequent visitor, and it is more for her safety that we isolate the cats to another part of the house. Tick lives with two cats, so is used to them, but our cats are not accustomed to dogs, and Willy, in particular, would probably attack poor Tick if she approached him.

As for the relationship between the resident cats, nothing much has changed – they still loathe each other. I had to take Talya to the vet, when I noticed she was losing more fur than the normal malting process would produce. She was over grooming and pulling the fur out herself. The vet reckons it was caused by stress, so he gave me some Chinese Herbal medicine called Xiao Yao San to try out on both cats in the hope that it would fix the problem. 

It hasn’t really, as Talya is still occasionally ripping out her fur, though the Xiao Yao San has calmed both cats down, apparently, as they have not had a really serious confrontation since they’ve been on the medicine.

Overall I’m very pleased with my new G16 and look forward to trying it out at concerts and the races.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Carnival Is Over–Emirates Stakes Day Review

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Mounting yard gate – back view of  Emirates winner, Hucklebuck returning to scale

It certainly wasn’t a day for favourites at last Saturday’s Emirates Stakes meeting at Flemington. Most of the races resulted in surprise winners with the favourites running out of a place.

Perhaps the heat was the cause. It was a hot and windy day and the track was upgraded from a Good 3 to Good 2 as the afternoon progressed and several horses were scratched due to the firmness of the racing surface.

When I arrived at the track, shortly before the running of Race 4 the Hilton Hotels & Resorts Stakes, there was already a sizable crowd in attendance. Not at Derby Day or Cup Day levels, but they comfortably filled the public lawn area. Considering that the general admission cost was a hefty $60.00, I was astounded that many of those present didn’t appear to show the slightest interest in the racing action. It’s traditionally a family day, and children were there in abundance.

One largish group had brought their own seating in the form of fold out chairs and had set them up in a semi circle in front of my favourite position on the fence, so I observed them as I squeezed my way through the barricade of chairs. Not one of the group ever got up from their chairs to watch the races, even though they were so close to the action.  What’s the point of going to a first class race meeting and showing no interest in it? It would have been cheaper for them to all meet up in a park.

Racing Victoria, after the flag waving incident on Cup Day that resulted in the injury and subsequent death of Araldo, horses returning to scale in the Group 1 races bypassed the long rose walkway back to the mounting yard, and instead returned via the entrance at the clock tower.  The non Group 1 races all used the rose path, but anyone  waving distracting articles were quickly stopped.  It sounds like an overreaction, when you think back to Black Caviar’s racing days, when flags were all over the place and they handed them out at the entrance gates.

Personally, I am more spooked by shrieking young females, one of whom I could not help but overhear after the 8th race. Her bet, Suavito, had just won, and all the non winners were returning to scale, but any of them could have been the one she was screaming her praises for as the winner had not at that point returned to scale. The winner is generally the last to return, delayed by the media interview of the jockey on the track shortly after race finish.

Enough of grouching about the general stupidity of Spring race goers, and back to the real thing.

After watching Race 4, which was won by Lord Aspen, the only favourite to win on the day, I wandered to the peaceful and uncluttered stalls area. Even on Melbourne Cup day the stalls and parade ring section was relatively deserted.

I found a few of the stars already in attendance in their stalls…

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Chautauqua in his stall

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The lovely Lankan Rupee in his stall

…and in the parade ring I spotted star Irish sprinter Slade Power being exercised.

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Slade Power in the parade ring

As Race 5 was due to start, I returned to the public lawn and easily found a spot at the mounting yard fence to watch the parade. It was the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a 2600 metres race for stayers who missed out on a run in the Melbourne Cup. British mare Noble Protector was the favourite.

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Noble Protector

The race was won by another import the German bred Le Roi with local bred Prince of Penzance running second and my fancy Big Memory (from France) who ran third.

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Le Roi returning to scale, a happy Damian Oliver saluting the crowd

The first of the Group 1 races was up next.  With an exemplary field the Darley Classic was the pick of the races on the day. A riveting sprint down the Flemington straight, the finish was fought out by Lankan Rupee, Chautauqua and Sydney visitor Terravista who was the winner. Less than half a length separated the three of them.  Slade Power missed the start and was never a threat.

One good thing about the bypass via the clock tower, was the unique photo opportunity to capture the returning horses from a different angle.

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Lankan Rupee returns to scale after running third in the Darley Classic

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Chautauqua returns to scale after running second in the Darley Classic

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Rebel Dane returns to scale

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Temple of Boom returns to scale

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Terravista returns to scale after his victory in the Darley Classic

Though Australia’s stayers have been upstaged by the Internationals, our sprinters are world class, even with Black Caviar no longer on the scene. If she was,  no doubt she’d thrash the lot of them. Still it’s good to see really competitive  sprint races again. Lankan Rupee, Chautauqua, Terravista and maybe Deep Field will all hopefully return in Autumn to fight for more Group 1 glory.

The feature race, the Emirates Stakes was the next race on the agenda, so it was back to the mounting yard fence to see them parade. I’d only had few modest bets, and they’d all come third. I of course had my money on The Cleaner in the Emirates and his odds were a good 10/1. You guessed it, he ran third.

Hucklebuck stamped himself as a potential star of the turf with his win in the Emirates Stakes, his first Group 1 victory.  The Cleaner, as expected, set up  a steady pace in the lead, and was there to be caught by the swoopers. He held on really well to finish third. Lucky Hussler narrowly missed out on winning, but had to settle for second place.

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Unplaced favourite Contributer returns to scale

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The Cleaner in the mounting yard

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Lucky Hussler returns to scale

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Hucklebuck  returns to scale after winning the Emirates Stakes

I only stayed for one more race, the Group 2 Momentum Energy Stakes, a race  for mares run over 2000 metres.

By this time a cool change had come through, so the wind that had been a fierce hot northerly, swung to the south but was still quite strong.

I thought Solicit was a good chance to win. After all she had a couple of consecutive wins back in the autumn and has been close up a few times this spring. She ended up finishing fifth behind Suavito, Girl in Flight and Amanpour who filled the places.

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Solicit in the mounting yard

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Tango’s Daughter – ran fourth

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Girl in Flight – second

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Amanpour – third

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Suavito returns to scale along the rose path after winning the Momentum Energy Stakes

And so ended the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, though there are a couple of good races at Sandown next Saturday which I will watch with interest.

Looking back over the Spring Racing Carnival, other than the multinationals winning the three big races, no real stars emerged, most of the other Group 1 races being won by one horse or another. The only horses to win two Group 1’s were Dissident (Memsie Stakes & Makybe Diva Stakes) and Trust In A Gust (Rupert Clark Stakes & Toorak Handicap).

Though probably not as good as the 2013 Spring Racing Carnival, it still was interesting all through, and I enjoyed all the race meetings I attended. Highlights were Lucia Valentina winning the Turnbull Stakes, The Cleaner winning the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes and the JRA Cup, Fawkner winning the Caulfield Stakes, and of course the remarkable win of Adelaide in the Cox Plate.

And to finish off this entry I must mention the passing of two old stars of the Australian Turf with a nose thumb to the fundamentalists of the Coalition For The Protection of Racehorses, whose agenda remains mysterious and very iffy.

The two horses in question are Rough Habit and Veandercross, both New Zealand bred and prominent racehorses in the early 1990s.  I remember them well and probably even saw them race.

Rough Habit was euthanised last Friday at the age of 28, and Veandercross died on Caulfield Cup Day at the age of 26.

Rough Habit won 21 feature races, 11 of them at Group 1 level. He won the Stradbroke Handicap twice and the Doomben Cup three times. He narrowly missed winning the 1994 Cox Plate.  He was a cult hero in Queensland and even featured on an Australia Post stamp one time.

Veandercross won 15 races, 8 at Group 1 level and was very unlucky not to have won the 1992 Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup, running a close second in both races. His jockey Shane Dye was blamed both times for his defeat.

Rest In Peace Roughie and Vandy.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Carnival Goes Out With A Bang–Emirates Stakes Day

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The Cleaner – Cox Plate Day

It’s the last day of Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival on Saturday and Flemington throws open its gates again to host the Emirates Stakes meeting, featuring two fabulous Group 1 races.

So far this Spring, the three major staying races have been won by horses from three different countries – Cox Plate winner Adelaide is from Ireland, Caulfield Cup winner, the late Admire Rakti was from Japan, and Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist is from Germany – so the Spring racing carnival has gone all multi national these days.

Let’s hope this does not continue at the weekend, and that one or two of our local heroes can win a prestigious Group 1 from a foreign invader.

The first of the Group 1 races is the Darley Classic, formerly known as the Patinack Farm Classic. It’s a sprint over 1200 metres and has attracted a really classy field of crack sprinters including Lankan Rupee, Buffering, new kid on the block Chautauqua, and top Irish sprinter Slade Power.  I daren’t speculate on who will win.

Chautauqua is the current favourite which means Lankan Rupee will be at reasonably good odds for a change.  Slade Power has peculiar barrier manners, that require him to wear a hood until the gates open, and to be loaded last. Racing Victoria has not made many concessions to his eccentricities, so who knows what will happen when they jump.

Tassie hero, the “Lion of Longford”, aka The Cleaner is going for Group 1 glory in the Emirates Stakes, a race over 1600 metres.  Rather than racing against stayers, he faces a field of well performed milers. These include Hooked who won the Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate day, Hucklebuck who won his last race over 1400 metres  at Flemington a week ago, and Irish import Contributer who is highly fancied and will probably start as favourite.

I’ll be barracking for The Cleaner, who hopefully can run the rest of the field ragged and hang on to the lead to the end. He’ll also be at very good odds, being nowhere near favoured by the Newspaper tipsters.

I’m looking forward as always to going to the track. It will be the last race meeting I’ll attend this year most likely, so god knows what I’ll do on Saturday afternoon from now on.

Emirates Stakes Day, as I discovered last year is a really pleasant meeting, not crowded and pretty laid back.  It’s the pick of the four day Flemington carnival for that reason.

It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But I Like It–The Rolling Stones at Rod Laver Arena

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Rolling Stones live at Rod Laver Arena – 5 November 2014

Pity the poor souls who booked to see the Rolling Stones at Hanging Rock on Saturday night. The show has been cancelled because Mick Jagger has a throat infection and has been advised by his doctors to take it easy for a while.
Perhaps he overextended himself last Wednesday night, when he and his fellow cohorts in the legendary rock n roll band put on a show to remember.
I’m terribly pleased that I did attend the event. I know, it cost a fortune, but my outlay for the concert was offset by a generous Ticketek gift voucher from Nu Country. They give me a voucher every year for maintaining their website, and I like to use it on blockbuster shows I normally would not attend.  Some are disappointing, some are surprising and some are great. The Rolling Stones were great.

The Stones were scheduled to start at 8.00pm, but eventually made it to the stage at 8.30pm, the big screen behind the stage showing a glowing red sun, with a booming base note ringing out as the Stones pranced onto the stage. They launched instantly into Jumping Jack Flash and the crowd erupted in delight. That was followed by It’s Only Rock n Roll, then Tumbling Dice, all heavy rockers, before slowing down for Wild Horses.

Throughout the Australian tour, the Stones have given the fans an opportunity to request a song, not on the regular set list. Melbourne’s choice was Street Fighting Man, and the Stones delivered it in riveting fashion.

When Leonard Cohen performed here a couple of years ago, everyone marvelled at how spry he was for his age. The Stones left him for dead, Mick Jagger in particular, who pranced and danced with his habitual panache and looked very fit despite the ravages of time showing on his face. Even Keith Richards was able to arise from a kneeling position with grace and little effort. You marvel that he’s still alive, let alone upright on stage playing a guitar.

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Keith Richards solo

Ronnie Wood was the character of the original Stones bunch, wearing vibrant red sneakers and occasionally sneaking a cigarette in the strictly no smoking venue. If you’re a Rolling Stone you obviously can get away with political incorrectness. It was almost a nostalgic moment watching him smoke – something you never see at concerts these days.

The sound was excellent, perfectly mixed and crystal clear as far as vocals were concerned.  My ears were only slightly buzzing after the show.

Rod Laver Arena was packed to the rafters, and the crowd was a mix of old and young fans that really grooved to the band.

Audience participation included lots of clapping, arm waving, singing along and woo wooing at appropriate times, for instance the opening segue for Sympathy With The Devil, where Mick Jagger appeared in a fiery red cloak…

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Shot of screen with Mick Jagger superimposed in a fiery scene
Keith Richards got a chance to perform two songs solo  - Happy and Before They Make Me Run. Both he and Mick were in fine voice and were ably backed by singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler. As well as the core Rolling Stones – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts - there was an additional keyboard player, Chuck Leavell, bass player Bobby Keys, and saxophonist Tim Ries. Former Rolling Stone, Mick Taylor also made a guest appearance and a local choir, Consort Of Melbourne, lent their angelic voices to You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

I reckon Mick Jagger changed his shirt about five times, and Keith Richard swapped his original green shirt for a blue one.

As for light shows and extravagant effects, there was none of that at the Stones concert. It was all low key, but effective.

My seat was on the lower tier, so I had a really good view of the stage, close enough to see the lines on their faces. However, my camera couldn’t handle the lighting and action, so the above photos are the best I got from my vantage point. 

It was a great concert, really enjoyable and it sounded genuine – the REAL  thing live – the Rolling Stones as we all remember them.

Inimitable, they are indeed the greatest rock n roll band in the world.

Long Live The Rolling Stones!

Set List
  1. Jumpin' Jack Flash
  2. You Got Me Rocking
  3. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)
  4. Tumbling Dice
  5. Wild Horses
  6. Doom and Gloom
  7. Street Fighting Man (by request)
  8. Out of Control
  9. Honky Tonk Women (followed by band introductions)
  10. Before They Make Me Run (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
  11. Happy (Keith Richards on lead vocals)
  12. Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor)
  13. Miss You
  14. Gimme Shelter
  15. Start Me Up
  16. Sympathy for the Devil
  17. Brown Sugar
  1. You Can't Always Get What You Want (with the Consort Of Melbourne)
  2. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (with Mick Taylor)

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Aftermath–The Derby & Melbourne Cup

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Victoria Derby winner Preferment returns to scale

Weatherwise, no two days could have been less alike.

On Derby Day it was cold and windy with occasional showers, and on Cup Day it was hot and sunny in the main.

One good thing about the weather on Derby Day was that it discouraged the party crowd from filling the public lawn with their blankets, and even reduced crowd numbers from the year before.

So Derby Day was that much more enjoyable, with getting a drink, finding a good spot to watch the races, or placing a bet, being easy.

I arrived fairly early at Flemington racecourse, in plenty of time to watch the first Group 1 race, it being the Coolmore Stud Stakes.

It was won by the very handsome Brazen Beau, from outsider Delectation with Kuro running third. The favourite Rich Enuff must have had enough after his gruelling battle with Shooting To Win in the Caulfield Guineas, as he finished well back in 7th place. And Earthquake and Rubick wore themselves out with a speed competition on the inside and also finished well back.

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Brazen Beau returns to scale after winning the Coolmore Stud Stakes

Next up was the Lexus Stakes where Signoff earned himself a place in the Melbourne Cup field, beating home Big Memory and La Amistad.

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Signoff returns to scale after winning the Lexus Stakes

The second of the Group 1 races the Mackinnon Stakes followed 40 minutes later and Happy Trails finally got his day of glory for this spring with the narrowest of victories over He’s Your Man.  English horse Farraaj ran third.

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Happy Trails leads the field back to scale after being declared the winner of the Mackinnon Stakes.

The Derby as usual resulted in the favourite being nowhere in the finish. Hampton Court obviously didn’t have the staying power to run the distance and finished eighth.  Chris Waller won yet another Group 1 race with his runner Preferment, who certainly could run the distance, beating home Bondeiger and Nozomi by a short margin.

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Preferment in the winner’s rug posing for the cameras.

By this time it was about 4.00pm and there were still two races to go. the final Group 1, the Myer Classic and the Stakes.

My money was on Sweet Idea in the Myer Classic, but she was beaten into second place by longshot, but talented, mare Bonaria, who appreciated the sting out of the ground (due to the rain). Catkins, reliable as always, ran third.

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Catkins on her way to the track

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Sweet Idea leaving the mounting yard for the track

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Bonaria returns to scale after winning the Myer Classic

The last race on the program was worth staying for to witness up and coming, unbeaten sprinter, Deep Field, win his 5th race in succession.

I took a number of photos of him…

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Deep Field in his stall earlier in the afternoon

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Deep Field in the mounting yard

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Deep Field returns to scale after winning the Stakes

Deep Field won by a length from Driefontein and In Cahoots

The Melbourne Cup

As previously mentioned Melbourne Cup day was hot and sunny, so the annual race goers were out in force at Flemington yesterday. I made it to the course, on a mostly empty train at about 2.00 pm, one hour before the big event. I therefore had plenty of time to make my way through the hordes of partying patrons, spread out all over the grass, to my usual possie on the fence next to the path where the horses leave the mounting yard. As there are sliding  gates there one can just stand around and get front fence positioning when the gates are closed.

Once in position I stayed put and luckily arrived at the right moment, as the security guys closed the gates shortly afterwards, and kept them closed until after the Melbourne Cup was run.

There wasn’t long to wait for the main event, and in the meanwhile you were entertained by the pre-race pomp and circumstance, such as the ceremonial handing over of the 2014 Gold Cup by last year’s winning trainer, i.e Gai Waterhouse. She paused just in front of me on her way to the mounting yard and saluted the crowd with said Cup.

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Then there was a choir who sang Heroes Live Forever, then the National Anthem.

It’s rather ironic that the first song can’t apply to Admire Rakti and Araldo who tragically lost their lives yesterday, casting a sombre light over the day, though no doubt memories of their sad passing will linger for many years.

I am therefore glad that I managed to photograph both of them as they made their way to track.  Admire Rakti, other than being agitated by the crowds and noise, gives no indication that he is suffering a heart condition. How would you know anyway?

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Rest In Peace Admire Rakti

Rest In Peace Araldo

As mentioned before the place was packed, but I must admit it did add to the atmosphere of excited expectation as the horses paraded in the mounting yard, then made their way to the track.

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Mounting Yard gate

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The crowd opposite where I was standing

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The winner Protectionist on his way to the track

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Ever the bridesmaid, never the bride – Red Cadeaux returns to scale after the race.

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Protectionist returns to scale after his victory in the Melbourne Cup

Having not attended the Melbourne Cup for 43 years, it was quite a change being there in person rather than watching the race on TV.  I didn’t find out about Admire Rakti’s death until I got home, so left the course in good spirits after the Melbourne Cup and waited for the next train on a crowded platform.

Would I attend it again? Quite possibly, now that I know the worst about the crowds. Actually I didn’t witness any loutish behaviour while I was there, and the people standing near me on the fence were all pleasant and friendly.

I didn’t even attempt to place a place a bet at Flemington, but used my online betting account with Sportsbet to have each way bets on Admire Rakti, Fawkner, Lucia Valentina and Who Shot Thebarman.  Fortunately Who Shot Thebarman ran third and paid a reasonable dividend for the place, so I got back half of what I had expended on the race.

I could have written at greater length on my day at the Derby and Melbourne Cup, but time constraints have forced me to keep it short.

As I type, I have only an hour or two to have dinner and get to Rod Laver Arena for the Rolling Stones concert.