Calling The Melbourne Cup: The Knowledge Ep3 - Matt Hill
Commentating on the Melbourne Cup is like being in a ‘trance’ says official caller Matt Hill.
Talking to The Knowledge Podcast, the Melburnian revealed what it was like to commentate on his first Melbourne Cup in 2017, when the Joseph O’Brien-trained Rekindling stormed to victory.
“The Melbourne Cup, because it’s such an important race, and so many people are listening, you have to concentrate so much more that you put yourself in almost a trance,” he said. “The first Melbourne Cup I called, I don’t think I can even remember a lot of it, because I was concentrating that hard.
“I reckon someone could have been hitting me over the head with a baseball bat and I would never have known.”
Wherever you are watching the Melbourne Cup, you can bet it’s Hill’s voice you’re listening too. A born and bred genuine Melburnian, who grew up on Flemington’s doorstep, he has spent a lifetime following the race that stops a nation.
He’s also called Grand Nationals in England, Australian Open Tennis matches, and Gold medal-winning performances at the Olympic Games, but everything always comes back to Melbourne, and the Melbourne Cup.
“I was actually born in a town called Williamstown, which is about 15 minutes from Flemington racecourse, so I’m on the right side of town there,” he said. “My early days were going to Flemington with my grandfather, or going to the football with my grandma.”
He added: “I used to sit in the grandstand at Flemington and just marvel, it’s one of the world’s great racecourses. I would probably call it misspent youth, but I really loved it, and it was the sound of the commentator over the public address that really made me think about being a race commentator. I loved that every time he said something, the crowd reacted.”
Though Hill does not remember actually calling that first Melbourne Cup, he does remember getting the call up to become Melbourne’s racecaller.
“I do remember getting the call, in fact I got an email,” he said. “I was in Great Britain at the time going to the Cheltenham Festival. I was in a little hotel room in Cheltenham, and I got an email at 2am in the morning from Racing Victoria saying that I got the job.
“I didn’t sleep for the rest of that night I was that excited. Now we’re heading towards my third Melbourne Cup. Time goes fast when you’re having fun!”
Calling Winx Was 'Theatre', Not Racing
The Melbourne Cup is the biggest show in town, but it’s not the only show, and in fact for as long as she raced, the record-breaking Winx took top-billing. She transcended racing, entering the hearts of a nation.
From the commentary box, Winx was as transfixing as she was to the legions of fans in the crowd below. Her incredible performances, and record winning streak of 33 wins actually changed the way racecallers had to work.
“The hardest part for me as the race caller was her races weren’t really races,” said Hill. “They became events that she was expected to win, so it became more theatre than race commentary, and that became tricky because racecallers aren’t poets, we’re there to broadcast a race accurately. When she was destroying them all the time it became about what race caller could say the best line.”
He added: “I’ve got to tell you, with Winx’s third and fourth Cox Plates, and I don’t like calling races like this, but I had my every word worked out to some extent. Which you don’t want to do because you don’t want to pre-empt races, but I had to do it for her.
“Maybe that answers the question, that’s how special she was, that we had to almost change the way we did our profession for her. You could almost predict what was going to happen, which I wish we could do for a Melbourne Cup.”
Beware Of Melbourne Cup Runners With This Trait
Hill does not know the script for this year’s Melbourne Cup, but he does have a good idea of what the winner’s profile might look like.
“You have to have a particular type of horse to win the Melbourne Cup,” he said. “The last two years the Cup has evolved so much, with Rekindling and Cross Counter being Northern Hemisphere-trained three-year-olds. They’ve found the type of horse that can win a quick two miles around Flemington.
“You don’t want a 4000m horse or a two and a half miler, you want a mile and a half horse. We had a horse come over in 2001, Give The Slip, who was a pacemaker for Godolphin, that had spent most of its life in England, running over a mile and a half, setting the pace for Godolphin’s more fancied horses. He came to Flemington and nearly won the Melbourne Cup at 50/1 by just being a front-runner and a quick 1m4f horse.”
There is one other tip for the Melbourne Cup that the commentary box can offer, and it’s a negative to current favourite Constantinople.
“Constantinople, who ran at York in the Great Voltigeur, to me seems to have the right formlines,” Hill said. He’s a Northern Hemisphere three-year-old, so ticks a lot of boxes, but he doesn’t settle. He’s a bit of a hot-head, and I think in a Melbourne Cup you need to be able to settle.
“That is a massive key to it, settle early and then work into the race on the home turn. When you have 24 runners in a mounting yard packed full of owners, there’s a lot going on on Melbourne Cup day, so they have to be settled. I worry about Constantinople.”
When we spoke to Hill, the three-year-old had not yet run in the eventful Caulfield Cup - where he finished a luckless fourth - and connections had not booked three-time Melbourne Cup-winning rider Glen Boss for the big test on November 5. However, horses don't change overnight.
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Did you miss Ep2 Million Dollar Chase: Featuring Adrian Molloy from Greyhound Racing New South Wales Listen here, and look out for Ep4 as we delve into the work and Las Vegas life of decorated gambling researcher Brett Abarbanel
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