Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Sport of Kings

Every November a horse race happens in the otherwise sleepy Melbourne suburb of Flemington, Victoria. Flemington is most well known for popular Malaysian restaurant Laksa King where customers can wait up to an hour for the privilege of sitting down to a hurried meal in a packed and noisy restaurant before being ushered out quickly to make room for the next wave of eager patrons.

Flemington’s other main attraction is the Royal Melbourne Show, an event which parents utilise for the dual purpose of child-minding and simultaneous wallet clean-out during the September school holidays.

But there probably aren’t many other reasons to visit Flemington…unless you are captivated by the grace and beauty of the Sport of Kings.
Unfortunately though, despite their storied history in the annals of Australian basketball, the Sydney Kings are not the subject of this phrase. The Sport of Kings actually refers to a sport involving horses.

And despite the game of chess both involving horses and kings, as it turns out, the Sport of Kings actually refers to horse racing.

We got there in the end.

There’s a whole carnival dedicated to horse racing in Melbourne each spring, but unlike the Royal Melbourne Show it’s not the type where you’d find amusements, displays and showbags…although you can probably still get an overpriced hotdog. It’s actually a carnival dedicated to horse racing with the premiere event being The Melbourne Cup, affectionately known as “The race that stops a nation” – not to be confused with the Tour de France, which has been described (only on this blog mind you) as The Racism That Stops a Nation.

Enslaving animals to perform as showpieces in a “sport” based purely on gambling is, apparently, sufficiently important to warrant a public holiday in Victoria. I would have thought that the invention of the bicycle should have been the natural evolutionary step that made horse racing obsolete.

Surely passionate fans of drug-riddled sport rife with corruption need look no further than bicycle racing for their fix. Especially considering that bike racing offers a number of key advantages over horse racing:
1. The equipment is not sourced via a system that encourages over breeding in order to improve the chances of landing a champion performer. In the end, many thoroughbreds just end up being sold for dog food. 
2. The effects of neglecting the equipment are much lower meaning that a damaged or underperforming race bike can easily be re-homed as a commuter or pub bike and is therefore much less likely to end up as dog food.
Try feeding these old thoroughbreds to your dog and see what happens.
3. New bicycles don’t need to be broken in at an early age leading to joint problems and shorter life expectancy, which ultimately fast tracks many of them to a grizzly end as dog food.
While it’s true that you might need to put several hundred kilometres in to a new Brooks saddle before it conforms to the shape of your bum, the effects are unlikely to increase its chances of ending up as dog food.
4. Unlike racehorses, it is not required that each and every race-level bicycle is bred from stock whose lineage can be traced back over 300 years to one of only three Foundation Stallions (a Turk and two Arabians). The resultant inbreeding (and carefully selective breeding) is thought to have led to a number of congenital health disorders including brittle feet, lung bleeding, infertility and small hearts. These disorders have a tendency to, once again, increase the likelihood of these animals ending up as dog food.
I think it would be hard to argue against these four pretty solid arguments for replacing the sport of horse racing with bike racing…unless you happen to be a dog with a taste for canned food predominantly composed of dead horse (no rhyming slang intended there).

Some Dogs are quite partial to a bit of Dead Horse.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch for the jockeys who are already experts at being skinny and wearing vibrantly coloured garments.
Perhaps the anti-horse racing lobby could take some hints from the Ride Bike Not Elephants campaign started by Mount Beauty’s Matt Rousso.

Track Cycling has already picked up on this idea, with the popular Melbourne Cup on Wheels track meet drawing big crowds for over 75 years.

But this change doesn’t need to spell the end of the Spring Racing Carnival. It should not stand in the way of well-dressed people getting drunk and gambling. It’s just that instead of watching racehorses thundering down the finishing straight at Flemington, they’d be replaced with bikes.

If you feel like making a statement about this issue then why not ride your bike down to one of the Spring Racing events dressed as a horse, stand in line at the betting window and demand that bikes be included in next year’s event. Once you’ve made your point, you are free to go and get drunk, gamble and have a noisy laksa in sunny Flemington.


  1. Hmm. If a human can run at 12mph and ride a bike at 40mph, and a horse can run at 40mph how fast could it ride a (suitably adapted) bike? Anyone fancy building one and finding out?

  2. I will put this challenge out to any talented frame builders: build a bicycle frame fit for a horse.