Underdogs gone overboard

There are only two times when Australians drop the pretence and openly hope Goliath will crush David.

The first is the Commonwealth Games, where we treat beating the likes of Papua New Guinea and the Isle of Man as akin to winning the America’s Cup.

The second allowable moment is right now, in that strange time between football and cricket seasons when the general public pretends to like horse racing.

When Black Caviar raced, the only people hoping she wouldn’t win were the owners of the other horses unlucky enough to be sharing the track with her.As far as the public was concerned, her competitors might as well have be called Glue Pot or Pet Food Supreme.

Following her Melbourne Cup wins in 2003 and 2004, the 2005 spring carnival was basically a Makybe Diva fan convention. The actual race was more of a victory lap before she was crowned Australia’s greatest horse since Phar Lap.

Racing is the only sport where the punters are expected to, you know, punt. Rather than muttering the perfunctory “Carn the Swannies” before disappearing into the corporate box, racegoers have to put their money where their mouth is.

The prospect of losing actual cash, even if it is just a mystery bet, diminishes the romance of supporting the underdog.

This sport-specific pragmatism shows just how patronising the notion of supporting the underdgog is. We are happy to do it during the football season or the Olympics because we have no real investment in it.

And ultimately, any affection the underdog may receive is only fleeting. History remembers the winners, the Chicago Bulls, the All Blacks, Ian Thorpe.

If the underdogs are lucky enough to make a historical footnote it is because they did the most un-underdog thing possible and achieved something, like the Socceroos qualifying for the 2006 World Cup or Australia II convincing people to trust Alan Bond.

Our annual bout of overdog mania will end once the victorious trainer holds aloft the Melbourne Cup.

Australian sports fans then have less than three weeks to fall in love with losers again because if we don’t, it’s going to be a long Ashes summer.

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