It may be a cliché, but the race that stops a nation really does captivate the Australian public like no other. The first Tuesday in November is Melbourne Cup Day and this classic thoroughbred event, which this year celebrates its 153rd anniversary, remains one of horse racing’s most glamorous occasions.
First run for a modest purse on November 7, 1861, this 3,200-metre handicap event is now the richest ‘two mile’ race in the world. It didn’t take long for the Melbourne Cup to capture the imagination of the Victorian crowds, with race day declared a public holiday as long ago as 1873. Today race-day crowds regularly swell past the 100,000 mark, so it’s safe to say the Melbourne Cup is firmly ensconced as one of the most popular events on Australia’s crowded sporting calendar.
More than just a horse race
The Melbourne Cup may be one of the key events on the Spring Carnival calendar, but its allure goes far beyond mere horse racing. Tens of thousands of fans pour through the famous Flemington gates on race day, lured by a unique chance to combine sport with socialising and the chance to mingle with some of Australia’s cultural élite.
“The huge crowds that flock to Flemington are there to participate in a magnificent day of racing, friends and fashion,” explains Lisa Patroni, Senior Tourism and International Development Manager for the Victoria Racing Club.
“Whether it be socialising in one of the countless corporate marquees that span the racecourse, mingling in the Members’ Reserved Carparks, a picnic on the public lawn or fine dining in one of the racecourse’s many excellent restaurants and marquee enclosures, there is a sense of fun and excitement no matter which corner you turn at this truly iconic event,” she says.
A fashionable affair
Competition off the track is just as fierce as the race itself, with the Melbourne Cup’s cutting-edge Fashions on the Field attracting almost as much attention as the race itself. Each year the crowning of the Women’s Racewear national winner is feverishly anticipated, but even if you’re not in the running, race day nevertheless offers the perfect excuse to suit up and engage in a bit of sartorial splendour.
“The Melbourne Cup Carnival becomes the place to see and be seen as fashion frenzy racegoers relish the opportunity to dress in their finest racewear and catwalk down the Myer Fashions on the Field runway,” Ms Patroni says.
“We advise that you arrive at the racecourse early as it will give you plenty of time to explore the delights Flemington has to offer,” she adds of an event renowned for its diverse array of off-track activities.
Exploring a sports-mad city
With Flemington Racecourse located less than five kilometres from Melbourne's compact city centre, the Melbourne Cup offers visitors the perfect opportunity to explore Australia’s sporting capital in depth. Step away from the track and take a tour of the venerable Melbourne Cricket Ground for an insight into the role this cavernous 100,000-capacity venue has played in the history of cricket in Australia, not to mention the development of the Australian Football League.
If it’s a dose of summertime football you’re after, the city’s two A-League clubs Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart attract colourful crowds to their Etihad Stadium and AAMI Park homes, with the Melbourne derby one of the most ferociously contested sporting events in the country. If, however you’re keen to indulge in a bit of physical activity yourself, why not slap on some sunscreen and head down to St. Kilda beach for a uniquely Victorian take on some Australian beachside culture?
Melbourne has got you covered whatever your sporting fix, and there’s no better time to visit than on Melbourne Cup day – when all eyes turn to Flemington for a race that well and truly stops a nation.