How does it feel to call the Melbourne Cup?

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For the last 30-odd years, Greg Miles has been the premier broadcaster in Australian horse racing. Recognised around the country as the voice of the Melbourne Cup, Miles is every bit as much of a fixture of the spring racing carnival as Bart Cummings’s eyebrows or alcohol-induced wardrobe malfunctions. This year, following yet another successful spring season, Milk Bar was lucky enough to catch up with a Greg for a chat about a life in the horseracing’s hot seat.

‘My folks had a dry cleaning shop and I’d help work in there on Saturdays,’ says Miles. ‘I’d listen to the races in the back of the shop and think how vibrant and exciting and energetic listening to the race calls was. And then when I first went to the races not long after that, I was pretty well hooked on the whole thing.’

Bitten by the bug and determined to be involved somehow, Miles started practicing calling races by himself.

‘I’d find a place somewhere near the other broadcasters … stand in the crowd and call the races into the tape recorder. Then I’d listen back to them and send them off to the professionals so they could critique them for me. It didn’t’ come easily to me — it took a little while to teach myself how to do it.’

Receiving encouragement from the pros for his efforts, Miles eventually started getting regional work before tipping up at the ABC around 1980 to find himself under the wing of the legendary race caller Joe Brown.

‘Joe was just the most helpful person you could possibly imagine,’ says Miles. ‘Here’s a man who’d broadcasted for 34 years and when I first met him he said “Everything I’ve learned, I’ll pass on to you”. He was sort of my second dad, you know? We had a wonderful relationship. He knocked off the rough edges, helped me with presentation and how to prepare a preview … and also about life. Just general things.’

Listening to Miles call the Melbourne Cup, you’d never imagine him as an unpolished rookie. However, he laughs when recalling his first live radio broadcast from Caulfield in November 1979.

‘I was petrified,’ he says. ‘I was so nervous I shook like a leaf. I couldn’t hold the binoculars steady — couldn’t see them for half the race!  It was awful!’

These days, however, it takes a race that stops a nation to bring back any inkling of the nerves he once experienced as rookie.

‘Now? Probably I’m more in control of my emotions and my nerves than I ever have been, but it’s taken 30 years just about to get there,’ he says.

‘All the other races it’s a bit of nervous anticipation I guess, but with the Melbourne Cup … I mean, if you really genuinely sat down and thought about it, you wouldn’t do it because it would be too frightening. So I try and just concentrate on the fact that it’s just a race, it just needs to be called. But there’s no doubt that there’s this underlying pressure that this is the Melbourne Cup.’

‘And the fact is I could call well for 364 days a year and this is the one where the audience is huge and there’s people that never ever listen at any other time. So my whole year hangs on getting the last 15 seconds of the Melbourne Cup right. It’s like a reprieve to continue for the rest of the year.’

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