The Melbourne Cup has always been a pivotal fixture on the Australian sporting calendar. Rather like the UK’s Grand National, it is the racing event of the year. The one where even people who never usually get involved in racing might have a flutter or draw a horse in the workplace sweepstakes. Traditionally, these are the races where horses are chosen by their names or the colour of the jockey’s silks rather than by experts studying form, ground conditions and rider expertise.
Is It Still the Race That Stops the Nation?
A recent survey indicates that things are changing in how horse racing is viewed in Australia. The country’s love affair with the Melbourne Cup might be coming to an end. Over half of the people questioned said they have ‘no interest’ or ‘low interest’ in the event. The Melbourne Cup at Flemington has always been known as ‘the race that stops the nation’, and a public holiday is granted. However, its popularity seems to be ebbing away.
Attendance and Viewing Figures in Decline
Falling attendance is not a new thing for 2022. Attendance for the race at Flemington and the surrounding carnival has declined in the last decade. The last time the race was run with a crowd allowed to spectate was in 2019. That year 81,408 people watched the race on the ground, and 276,186 turned up for the carnival overall. A decade earlier, those figures had been 102,161 and 368,929, respectively.
The number watching on television has also been in decline. However, it is almost impossible to get any definitive reason for this as so many contributing factors are responsible. These include the rise of streaming content to mobile devices and desktop devices. In addition, for many dedicated race watchers, popular betting apps allow them to watch the races without needing a subscription and while betting simultaneously.
Is The Melbourne Cup a Unique Part of Australia’s Identity?
The poll found that seventy-two per cent of respondents considered The Melbourne Cup a unique part of Australia’s identity. On the other hand, a third said that it normalised animal cruelty. In previous years, people had been asked about the Cup’s place in the Australian national identity. This year’s figure is higher than 2020’s sixty-seven per cent, but it was almost eighty per cent in 2019, so the change is significant.
Men are slightly more in agreement than women with the statement about the race being a unique part of Australian identity. Seventy-two per cent of men concurred compared with seventy-one per cent of women. The gulf, in opinion, is not between the sexes but between the generations. The older the responder, the more they agreed with the statement. This undoubtedly speaks of a nation changing its views on its identity. Of those aged eighteen to thirty-four, only fifty-six per cent agreed. However, that figure was eighty-six per cent amongst those over fifty-five and seventy-two per cent in the thirty-five to fifty-four bracket.
Occasional Gamblers are Still Interested
The survey also investigated interest levels in the race, with forty-six per cent of respondents having high or moderate interest and fifty-two per cent having low or no interest. However, despite the falling interest in the Melbourne Cup, many people said they intended to place a bet. This included many people who do not consider themselves to be regular gamblers. In the survey of over one thousand people, forty-seven per cent said they intended to place a bet on the race. This is three per cent higher than last year. Only eighteen per cent of those questioned said they regularly bet on horse racing.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, it is middle-aged men who are most likely to gamble on The Melbourne Cup. Fifty-six per cent said they would bet on the race, and twenty-five per cent said they regularly wagered on horse racing. Conversely, women are more likely to be occasional or non-gamblers. Thirty-nine per cent of the women questioned said they intended to place a bet, with sixty-one percent saying they would not.