THE stakes are high as organisers of Australia’s only cow race beef up preparations ahead of this month’s event.
More than 3000 spectators are expected to converge on the small township of Mt Compass – about 50km south of the South Australian capital Adelaide – for the January 23 event.
The Compass Cup has run every year since 1974 in the town to celebrate the region’s proud but dwindling dairy farming industry.
Compass Cup president Ashley Pacitti said other farming-inspired events such as the cow dung fling, milk drinking competition, rubberboot marathon and tractor pull also celebrated the region’s strong history of agriculture, particularly dairy farming.
Milk Drinking Competition
“We’re trying to bring city people back to an agricultural base so they don’t forget that agriculture is a big part of Australia,” Pacitti said.
But the main event of the day is undoubtedly the cow racing, which is a dash – or a waddle – down a 60m track marked out on the town’s main sporting field.
Two heats of 12 cows each are held with the top six cows making it through to race for the cup.
Spectators can bid to own a racing cow for the day with teams of four including a jockey to sit atop the cow and two handlers to hold on to the cow’s lead ropes as it makes its way down the course.
The 24 untrained cows perhaps get the biggest surprise of all as they are randomly chosen from a local dairy on the morning of the race.
“The cows are pulled out of the dairy after milking that morning and brought down to the oval and sent home that afternoon ready for milking again,” Pacitti said.
“Sometimes they’ll run straight down the course, other times they can come out all stubborn and just do circles and sometimes all they want to do is take a couple of steps and then head back to the gate where the other cows that aren’t racing are.”
But Pacitti said handlers occasionally struggled to keep up with their cows when they hit full stride.
He said the event’s unique atmosphere attracted a variety of guests from families to Stag parties and even international tourists.
“The past six years we’ve actually had a group of Japanese tourists come over for the event so obviously it’s struck a chord with that country.”
Pacitti’s only advice for those wanting a speedy bovine was to seek out one “that looks fast and nimble”.
“Look for a pocket rocket cow,” he said.