MELBOURNE Cup fever got the better of workers across the nation yesterday as punters flocked in droves to bookmakers, pubs and hotels to watch the action and have a punt on a race that lasts for under four minutes and is run almost 4,000km away.
In the nation’s capital, many office workers flocked to the betting spots at Gordon, leaving the Waigani government offices precinct looking deserted.
Calling the offices after lunch led to long waiting periods as the phones either rang out or were forwarded to voice prompts.
Office secretaries simply informed the caller to “call back later”.
One enthusiastic Post PNG worker, when asked where everyone had gone, responded with: “Which horse did you bet for?”
It was quite apparent that most of the employees were having “extended” lunch breaks.
Outside Six-Mile Bookmakers, one of PNG’s oldest betting shops, bookie Dan Cassell said it was his biggest betting day.
“It might as well be a public holiday up here,” he said.
“I open at 8am and was taking bets, people were lining up and the place was full by 10am,” he said.
Around the country, the two dailies sold like hot cakes as punters bought the papers for the racing form guides.
In Madang, newspaper distributors said papers sold out quickly as people came looking for them as early as 7am even though they only arrive around 9am.
They said sales on Monday and yesterday were the briskest of the year.
Madang Bookmakers and T & C Bookmakers were packed with punters scanning newspapers, biros in hand, while others formed long queues to place their bets.
According to the bookmakers, punters came as early as 6.30am, some of them even placing their bets on Monday.
Once the big race got under way, the excitement reached fever pitch, with people shouting for their horses and yelling “Go! Go!”
Three minutes later, the majority of punters walked out silently, with their heads down, while only a few were smiling.
In Lae, only three hands punched the air in delight at the Kina Betting Shop, 8th Street, while the rest, numbering more than 1,000, walked away grimacing or scratching their heads, shocked by Shocking’s finish just after 2pm.
Betting shops at the neighbouring 9th Street were also quickly deserted by losing punters, who had flocked to the bookies from all over the city.
Before the race, the streets had suddenly turned quiet and were markedly free of vehicles and pedestrians.
Even in the densely populated suburbs of East Taraka and Omili, there were hardly any people to be seen in the backyards or on verandahs.
Most punters said they had gone for all or any one of the three from Cups King Bart Cummings’ stable, hoping he would have a fairytale win.
Alas, it was not to be.