IN TAKING a first-time tourist from the airport to a city hotel after dark, then down the highway to the Geelong Cup and straight back to the departure lounge, there is a chance they could form a skewed picture of Australia.
Umberto Rispoli hopped back on a plane last night shrugging his small shoulders, and hoping a second, more fruitful trip Down Under is only a few frequent flyer points away.
Italy's star jockey spent little more than 24 hours here, but it was long enough to lose his clothes, see the inside of the Geelong stewards room, and realise his French mount Brigantin will be more suited to the Melbourne Cup than its provincial cousin, should it secure a berth in the field, as expected.
''It's OK, was nice, nice to ride here,'' Rispoli said after running third in the Geelong Cup, and having a protest against the second placegetter, Luke Nolen on Chateau Margaux, dismissed in double-quick time.
''I just hope the horse can go in the Melbourne Cup, because I will find the adrenalin for the Melbourne Cup. For me, he can improve a lot. We don't see the real Brigantin today.''
Chief steward Terry Bailey and his panel were left wondering if they'd seen the real Rispoli, after he returned to scale complaining of Nolen bumping him twice around the home turn, causing Brigantin to lose balance and costing him a chance to finish second to Gatewood. He threatened to protest, but wanted to phone trainer Andre Fabre in France first.
''Just 30 second for call - is not my horse, is not my stable,'' Rispoli pleaded.
He was bluntly told that if he thought interference had cost him second, he should protest. ''You don't need to ring France to work that out,'' Bailey said.
The protest went ahead, and the stewards quickly concurred with Nolen that any contact was caused by Rispoli moving off his line, and not Peter Moody's horse.
''The horse run well, I'm happy about the horse,'' Rispoli later concluded, reasoning that a faster-run race, bigger track, field and Flemington straight would help his cause.
If Rispoli was feeling disoriented, he was left in no doubt he was a long way from home when Nolen's mount was referred to in the stewards' room as ''Chateau Margaret''. But he was still happy with his first, tiny window on a foreign land.
''Looks very nice, a lot of people at the track, a lot of girls, it's really, really nice,'' he said before the Cup, an endorsement to be leapt upon by anyone keen to defend Geelong's annual day in the spring spotlight against claims it resembles an Australia in which Barry McKenzie would be right at home.
Upon landing on Tuesday night, he was told by a stewardess that the suit bag he had handed over as he headed to his business class seat had gone missing, so a morning visit to Myer was added to his mini-Melbourne experience. ''We buy the shirts, the pants, something to come to the races,'' he said, not realising that jeans constituted overdressing relative to many on this day.
He arrived at the course with hours to spare, and walked the track with Craig Williams, with whom he shared an agent when the pair rode in Japan. ''As a person, he's very enthusiastic, he's very eager, and he's also been successful in Hong Kong, which is going to pay big dividends for his race riding here in Australian conditions,'' Williams said of the 24-year-old.
Rispoli rides for Mikel Delzangles, another affinity with Williams, and was chuffed to be sought out by Fabre to ride Brigantin here. He began reading about the Melbourne Cup, watched the movie of Damien Oliver's Media Puzzle fairytale, and was cajoled by his high-flying peers to make it his mission.
''When I went to Hong Kong, I go to Gerald Mosse's house, I saw the pictures of Americain. Gerald said, 'One time you have to ride the Melbourne Cup in your life'!
''He say: 'The day when I won, it was raining, but the people was unbelievable! You have to catch the horse for the Melbourne Cup'. I start to read, I think: 'It's nice, it's interesting. I will try to catch the horse'.''
A flying visit was no concern. ''My agent say: 'Mr Fabre, he wants to give you the horse for Melbourne Cup, but you have to do the travel two times'. I said: 'If he want, I do it seven, eight times, I don't care'. I think it's good to ride the Melbourne Cup one time in your life.''
Rispoli will give himself a couple of days to acclimatise if he returns to ride Brigantin at Flemington, and suspects winning would have its dangers. ''Because I can't come back [to Europe] one week later!''
First, he has more familiar commitments, in Deauville tomorrow, the Italian St Leger in Milan on Saturday, and on Molly Malone for Delzangles at Longchamp on Sunday. By the end of his working week, he'll have ridden in Italy, France, Australia, France, Italy and France again.
In business card terms, ''Umberto Rispoli - Milan, Paris, Geelong'' takes some beating.
The notion that people think Italian jockey, they think Frankie Dettori, doesn't perturb him. ''I love Frankie, he's my model - all the young kids, young jockeys make him their model because he's the best in the world.''
Rispoli shares his flamboyance, but leaping out of the saddle is for bigger, more successful days than this. ''Maybe if I won the Melbourne Cup …''