We call the Melbourne Cup the race that stop a nation - and it is a perfectly accurate description. The first Tuesday in November is also the day when everyone puts a bet on the Cup. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. Overnight, just about every man and his dog becomes an expert. Everyone's got a hot tip for the Cup.
I ain't kidding about the betting. Just have a look at this photograph, taken at lunchtime today in perfect weather, a sunny 21 Celsius or about 70 Fahrenheit. The massive white TAB tent is only a temporary structure, specially constructed at Federation Square in the shade of the spires of St Paul's Cathedral. Just goes to prove that the Cup - and the Spring Racing Carnival as a whole - is almost a religion in sports-mad Melbourne.
These flags, proclaiming the importance of the Cup, were fluttering proudly as Michael Rodd rode Efficient to a dramatic victory, coming through the outside on the home straight to overhaul 2002-winning jockey Damien Oliver aboard Purple Moon.
Today is traditionally the busiest day of the year for the TAB betting agency, hence the temporary tent in the first picture. Last year, $52.9 million was bet with the New South Wales TAB just on the Melbourne Cup, with $36.5 million wagered in Victoria on the race. My US readers might not reckon those are high figures, but you have to take into account that we only have a national population of onl 20 million.
Last year, more than 29 million individual transactions (bets sold and paid, account balance requests) were processed by Tabcorp's wagering system on Melbourne Cup Day. No surprise, then, that the TAB at Fed Square did a roaring trade. I was going to say we're a resourceful national, but maybe I should say instead that we are a resourceful, er, race!
If you want to see what the $80,000 three-handled gold chalice-style Melbourne Cup itself looks like, this shot (below) will give you an idea. I was lucky enough to spot this bloke with a miniature Cup-style pin in the lapel of his jacket and he was quite happy for me to photograph it. You might also be interested to know that Flemington Racecourse, home of the $5 million Cup, is on our National Heritage List, alongside the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park.