It’s Ipswich Cup Day: “best day of the year … better than Christmas”

Forgive the cheesy line from a Bruce Willis movie in the title to this post, but to me it accurately reflects the fervour with which many, mainly Ipswichians, consider Ipswich Cup Day.

Simply put it is a massive day that people come to my home town to from far and wide to enjoy.  I for one love Ipswich Cup Day: I have since my first as a skinny, pimply 18 year old in my Lowes suit and Dad’s one and only tie and I will till the day I am no longer capable of going along.

24,000 fans squeeze their way into the plethora of tents on the outside and inside of the track, the lawn area next to the stand or, for those holding a hallowed members ticket, in the members stand.

Now for the uninitiated it needs to be made clear that Bundamba Race Course is NOT a city race track: it is a provincial track so a crowd of 24,000 is nothing short of massive.  And boy do the fans have fun: I am sure I read somewhere (and I apologise for not having the source) that more XXXX Gold is drunk on this day than at any other sporting event in Queensland.

That being the case, it will come as little surprise that my memories of the last 15 years attending this day are hazy in patches.  That said, what makes this day special for me is that despite me not living in Ipswich anymore I can always come back home for “the Cup” and find a mate to have a beer and a chat with.  This is the one day at the races that I would consider the actual racing and having a punt secondary to catching with friends (and sometimes enemies) of the past to reminisce about times gone past.

There are other obvious highlights, some generic and some personal as well.  For those of us who wear a suit daily there is the usual mirth associated with picking out the lads testing out their “Lowes” special’s for the first time.  There is the presence of the great Gai Waterhouse at our (and I am Ipswichian by blood so I can still claim the Cup as an “our”) premier race day for the race named in her honour.  And there is the never ending quest for those in the tented areas for some table space to try and eat the cold chicken lunch provided (impossible to do standing up, holding a form guide and a can of beer with a paper plate).

It wouldn’t be an event attended by members of my family without there being some tradition involved and the Ipswich Cup is not any different: immediately after the last race of the day the “juvenile” members of clan Howells (that is my mothers side of the family) collect on the lawn next to the grandstand to toast the memory of our grandfather Colin, who it would be fair to say introduced us all to horse racing in some form or another. This is a sombre moment often at the end of a big day so regularly tears are shed as we reminisce about a great man gone but not forgotten.

As another Ipswich Cup Day dawns bright, I can already sense the BBQ’s being heated up to accompany the many beer breakfasts that will be held around the city of Ipswich this morning coupled with the brows of many “one day a year punters” furrowing as they try to decipher the hyroglyphics of the form guide.

I have managed with this post to write about a day of horse racing without even mentioning the actually racing itself and that of itself shows just how big the day has become: the event has become bigger than its sum parts.

Regardless, it is just a great day and whilst I am missing it for the first time in the last 15 years I can guarantee it is a day I will return to next year.

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