Spring has arrived in Australia and it means just one thing: the countdown is on to the Melbourne Cup. It is the race which brings an entire country to a standstill, just one of the reasons why the famous Melbourne Cup lays claim to being the world's greatest horse race.
The Grand National at Aintree in Liverpool, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in the United States, the Dubai World Cup, the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower at Longchamp in Paris...all serious contenders to be the best branded the world's best.
But, for a number of reasons, the Melbourne Cup just edges those rivals and deserves the tag of being the world's best race. Not for the first time, Australia edges out sporting rivals on the biggest of stages, and here's why.
1. The Race The Stops A Nation
The Melbourne Cup is known as the Race That Stops A Nation for a reason: because it brings Australia to a complete standstill. At 3.00pm on the first Tuesday in November every year, the country grinds to halt to watch three-and-a-half minutes of action as the world's best racehorses do battle for $6.2million in prize money. Whether watching live at Flemington, huddled round a television at home, or tuning in at the local pub on what is a public holiday in the state of Victoria, Australia views the Melbourne Cup en masse. No other race has the same impact on a country.
2. The Melbourne Cup Parade
A brilliant part of Melbourne Cup week is the Parade which takes place 24 hours before the race itself. A free, two-hour long, event available to anyone, the parade allows families, youngsters and horse racing fans to get up close and personal with their heroes from on and off the track. The build up to the Melbourne Cup hits Swanston Street in the city as horses, jockeys, trainers and celebrities take part in interviews during the parade as the crowds lap up entertainment provided.
3. 120,000 Racegoers
A total of 120,000 racegoers squeeze into Flemington Racecourse on Melbourne Cup Day. It isn't the biggest crowd - the Kentucky Derby tops it by some way, as do other races in Japan and Hong Kong - but the attendance dwarves most race days. The maximum crowd figure could be bigger, just as it has been down the years, but is deliberately limited to a comfortable number. What isn't dimmed is the atmosphere created. Drinks are downed, the national anthem sung and bets placed in their hundreds of thousands on a day that simply must be experienced to be believed.
4. International Attraction
As much as it is the moment Australia stops, the Melbourne Cup has become an international attraction with runners contesting the staying handicap race from across the globe. The roll of honour of winners now includes victors from Ireland, France, Germany and Japan, while several British-trained horses have gone agonisingly close to success, underlining just how global the Melbourne Cup has become. The 2016 race could see new ground broke with a possible contender from the Czech Republic.
5. The Makybe Diva Story
Melbourne Cup victories don't come easy. Winning it twice is significantly tougher. Winning three in a row is impossible. Well it was, until the gutsiest of mares emerged in Makybe Diva and the rest, as they say, is history. The now immortal name became the first to complete a hat-trick of Melbourne Cups between 2003 and 2005, creating history along the way. It was the greatest story in a race with an incredibly long list of them.