The spirit of a city to shine on Ipswich Cup day.

June 17, 2011

I’ll be heading up the Ipswich Motorway tomorrow, to attend Queensland’s biggest race meeting.

Seriously. I am not sipping hard liquor as I write this. Completely sober. But given the event in question is the Ipswich Cup, that will change soon enough.

I know what you’re thinking. He’s finally lost it. No surprise really. Call the men in white who talk in hushed tones.

Before you send me to my calm, happy place, let me explain. Ipswich’s grand day of racing attracts more racegoers than my beloved Stradbroke Saturday. Magic Millions Day on the Gold Coast? Not in the same ballpark.

Think Black Caviar Day at Doomben, with more rum. The only other arvo that comes close is Eagle Farm’s Ekka holiday race day. But that doesn’t count, because the entire crowd there is aged eighteen and one month.

There’s nothing like an Ipswich Cup day. And I mean that in a good way. Think of all the great racing events. The Cup. Cox Plate. Doncaster Day. This isn’t one of them.

Instead, it’s an amazing celebration of a city’s spirit. When twenty thousand people cram into a racecourse designed to hold half that amount.

I have no idea where they put them. There are tents on the infield, that become small cities. I’m guessing they see little racing over there. You need a lift in a Hercules to get to some of them. But they love it.

The grandstands are full before the gates open. I’ve always suspected the crowd begins arriving last Tuesday. They’re probably in there now, doing the form, chuckling to one another about getting a seat.

On the way in, it’s the happiest racing crowd I know. Everyone is having a laugh. That says something about Ipswich. They stick together. Forget the barbs from the snobs and the toffs. They don’t get it.

The girls are frocked up. Outfits weeks in the making. They come from all over. For some, it’s their most exciting outing of the year.

The boys arrive in various forms. They show their appreciation that the girls are frocked up. You know how it goes.

There are also blokes dressed as animals. I’m not sure why. Costumes are very popular. I saw a bloke dressed in a bear suit last year. He seemed to be having a good time.

It’s as much a giant party as a race meeting. Believe me, no-one goes short of a cool drink. The bar staff have been training like Olympians just to keep up the pace.

For all the social stuff, there are some decent races too. Every year you’ll find a sprinkling of visiting horses and trainers, looking to pick up some carnival prize money.

This year’s Cup is no different. Kiwi stayer The Hombre will start favourite. Rightly so. He’s been running in much stronger company than this. If the track dries out, double your bet.

The punters will be cheering for Our Lucas. He won the Cup last year. And the year before. Can you imagine what they’ll do if Rob Heathcote’s tough gelding makes it three from three? No-one will leave.

The meeting will be a little different this time. Something special. Early this year, Ipswich was underwater. Swamped by the worst flooding in decades. The racecourse wasn’t spared.

In those grim few days, families lost homes. Lives and businesses were destroyed. Locals needed every bit of the city’s famous spirit.

It’s been a struggle since. But they’ve worked together. We’d expect nothing less. And now, finally, Ipswich is getting back on top.

So there’s extra reason to celebrate. A time for people to say thanks. Even shed a tear. It could be the most emotional race meeting of the year.

If you haven’t been before, make the trip. Join the party. Shout the bloke next to you a drink. Unless he’s in a bear suit.