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Main race days of the Carnival

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When most of the world inches towards winter, Down Under it's time to welcome spring, and we do it in style with the Melbourne Cup Carnival. This wonderful season of fun unites Australians in a spirit of bonhomie and excitement that builds up to almost epidemic proportions by 3 p.m. on the first Tuesday of November. That's when the Melbourne Cup is won by the fastest horse in the world. Horse racing is not confined to those few days in November; rather it is a common event in this sport loving country. But it is this season that acquires an importance that is hard to ignore. Come early November and all roads lead to Flemington and ticket sales are booming and betting on the Melbourne Cup spikes.

Derby Day

On the Saturday before the Melbourne Cup Day the party begins with Victoria Derby. While the horses, their owners, and the jockeys are totally absorbed on how to win the race, a good part of the audience have slightly different preoccupations. The Derby Day has grown over the past and now one of the major side shows is the Fashion on the Field for men. This has become such a popular event that in 2006, it out did the Melbourne Cup Day in attendance figures.

If it weren't for Victoria Derby Day, you wouldn't have known there were so many suave men in Melbourne. It's the day when men who believe a folded handkerchief is the epitome of urbanity, actually let their wives or girlfriends go crazy telling them what to wear and how to walk.

Traditionally, Victoria Derby takes place the Saturday before the Melbourne Cup Day. It all started way back in history in the year 1855, and is even today considered an exhibition of raw animal power, speed, and thrill that captivates, and holds you in thrall. This event is the first of a group of four that marks the culmination of a series of racing events which had been going on around the city for about fifty odd days. It is the first in the final group that takes place in the fabulous Flemington grounds. This would be followed by the actual Cup Day, Oaks Day, and Stakes Day. About nine group 1 races take place on this day and there is a dedicated audience that watch without blinking or letting go of their binoculars. Sharing the limelight with the thoroughbreds are the men in suits and hats participating in the Men's Fashion on the Field.

But for some it is the carnival atmosphere, the heady champagne, great food, wonderful company of friends, and the marvelous spring weather that does it. They love those horses to death, but don't speak horse; they do place bets, but are too lazy to find good odds and usually just pick a number they fancy; and they do know who most of the jockeys are, but are more excited by the celebrities. And they're happy and excited for whoever wins.

Popular and past Derby Day winners include Phar Lap (1929), Elvstroem (2003), Efficient (2006) and the fastest ever around the track was Star Of The Realm in 1991.

The Victoria Derby, which is a Group One race for 3 year olds, is run on a left handed track on turf over a distance of 2,500 metres. This race marks the beginning of the Melbourne Cup week, traditionally on a Saturday, and the race's total prize money is $1.5 million plus, with a $10,000 trophy also going to the winner. Prize money, together with punter interest, has grown considerably since the race's inception to the Spring Racing Carnival.

In 1972 the format of the Victorian Derby had changed from being a one and a half mile race, to becoming a 2,400 metre race to adapt to the metric system. It was altered again a year later in 1973 (as it remains) to a total distance of 2,500 metres. An extra 100 metres had to be added due to the starting section of the race being too short. There was danger in the first straight being too close to the turn, and it was changed accordingly to prevent any mishaps.

Victorian Derby Day is the only race day in the whole of Australia offering punters the chance to bet on a whole race card of Group status races. Although this day of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival has been commended as being the day of champions, fashions on the field have taken the spotlight, particularly for men who dress up and try to get their picture in the newspaper. There are prizes on offer too, and the black and white is traditionally worn by their female counterparts.

The flower of Derby Day worn at the races has historically been the blue cornflower. This idea was instigated originally by the wife of a reputable Victorian Racing Carnival chairman in 1962, Mrs Sheelah Wood. The blue cornflower has since become a major theme of Derby Day, and is still worn by race-goers in modern times. Derby Day has evolved tremendously since then; and in 2006, a massive crowd of 129,086 people gathered to break the record for biggest Melbourne Cup Carnival attendance - a record which was previously held in 2003 by the Melbourne Cup Day.

Melbourne Cup Day

Tuesday is D-day, and the race that stirs a nation to passion. From Flinders St. to Flemington you see the carnival atmosphere evident in the crowds all expectant and excited. Fancy hats bob along the streets, and the colours of spring are everywhere. Melbournians dress for this event as if there were a red carpet to walk on. Though most have to trudge along soggy turf on stilettos that sometimes get bogged down, it definitely doesn't come close to bogging down the spirits. The atmosphere is electric and buzzing with animation. And when it is all over, there's no depressing anticlimax because there's always tomorrow, and that's Oaks Day.

Whether it is construed as a tribute to the fine animals, or as a mark of Australians' love for horses, the Melbourne Cup Day is when the whole country concentrates its collective attention on the fabulous race grounds of Flemington.

Every TV set in the country would be tuned into the event, just about every Australian has a punt on Melbourne Cup, and this would have to be the topic of conversation in every pub or sidewalk. Come 3 o'clock and there is a collective holding of breaths... to be let out in a mighty whoop when the winner rushes in like lightning.

The first ever race for the Melbourne Cup was run in 1861 by seventeen horses and it has been a regular event since then. In the forty odd years since, it has thrown up legends such as Phar Lap and Makybe Diva, and many more winners more famous than their owners or the jockeys who rode them to success. This goes to prove that it really is all about the horses, even though side shows have made the horse racing event a lot more popular with a lot more people. A name such as Makybe Diva is sure to prick your curiosity as to its origins. It was coined by the owner of the horse, Tony Santic, from the first syllables of the names Maureen, Kylie, Belinda, Diane, and Vanessa - all workers in his tuna factory.

The naming of Phar Lap has a colourful background. The name derives from the Thai word for lightning. Phar Lap also had many nicknames. He was called the Wonder Horse, Red Terror, Bobby and Big Red (he truly was a big horse). The name suggested first was 'farlap' but this was changed 'pharlap' to create a seven letter word in keeping with the dominant naming pattern of prior Melbourne Cup winners, including names such as Carbine, Windbag, Bitalli, Poitrel, and Sasanof and Piastre and others.

This is an occasion when women dress to thrill and turn out in designer clothes with accessories to match from head to foot. Outfits from the flamboyant to the bizarre are worn with élan, with matching hats that range from the stylish to those that resemble road kill (maybe less so these days). Now that we have the attention of the world, this would be the time and the venue for designers to present their efforts, and so knockout designs are displayed to advantage with awards for the best. Not to be outdone men of all ages turn out in their sartorial best too. In fact you can be certain you won't spot denim anywhere in the vicinity. This has got to be the most spectacular, if not the biggest, outdoor fashion event anywhere. And the best thing about it is that it is so easy to join in if you have the nerve, or the false courage supplied by champagne. After spending a fortune on a dress, handbag, hat and shoes, the least you can do is win a prize for it!

In excess of 100,000 people generally attend the Melbourne Cup Day each year. Over the years, the crowds have made it more about the social eventing of it, and not all about the race horses. The ladies enjoy dressing to impress to compete in events of their own, while the men wear uniquely coloured suits. Fashions on the Field have changed considerably in modern times, with glamor and pizzaz becoming an Australian Melbourne Cup Day ritual.

Flemington hosts the fashions on the field each year at the Melbourne Cup, and is one of the main events of the Spring Racing Calandar. Numerous alterations have changed the way fashions on the field is run, as sponsors, rules and judges have impacted the event with their own influences. These days the event is all about the fashion industry showcasing the new garments and styles they have to offer society. While the general of fashions on the field has remained the same for many years, both women and men now enjoy what has been the paramount Australian fashion event of the year.

Melbourne Cup Day is a long day for everyone - including the horses. At around 5pm on Cup Day you are likely to spot a few ladies walking around barefooted with their shoes in hand. Having sore feet is not uncommon at the end of such a big day on the racing calendar. But not everyone decides to go home after it. Many people choose to head down to the Crown Casino to spend their winnings, or go down to the City for a night of partying it up with friends. People come from interstate and even overseas to join in Australia's most festive day of the year.

Oaks Day

Oaks Day sometimes outdoes all other related events by its sheer enjoyment factor. This is the Ladies Day out that the ladies take to heart. The Fashion on the Field on this day is for the ladies and the judges really have a job on their hands. It is also called blokes day for they seem to enjoy the sights as well, and I'm not talking about the scenic landscapes. The horses do their racing and are cheered enthusiastically, but the fashion competition is what wins money for the lucky few in the audience.

Oaks Day originated in 1861 and was noted as the event after the Melbourne Cup Day. It was just the Thursday after the Tuesday and nothing that could upstage the glory of the cup day.

In 1962, some one in the Victorian Racing Club had a brain wave to enliven proceedings a bit. Introduce a Fashion on the Field event that would have the ladies all a flutter, vying for the best dressed award that would give them something to get really excited about for a whole day. We'll never know what prompted this outrageous piece of mental aberration, but the ladies welcomed it with open arms. This horse racing thing was all very well, but after all that brouhaha it lasted about 3 minutes; tell us about that.

The move to woo women onto the race tracks was a stroke of genius that set off a women's movement with a difference. What started as an attention seeking gimmick turned the event on its head and rewrote a few rules. Understandably there were some who thought all this "nonsense" would spell demise for what was basically an equestrian event, far removed from female fashion as anything could be. But fortunately for all concerned including the majestic horses, they were proved very, very wrong and the event has grown from gauche to poised sophisticate. It has of course, seen various changes take place and now includes a host of awards for Classic Race wear, Design, and Millinery.

Oaks Day has succeeded in winning international attention for the Carnival as a whole and this superb fun event is Melbourne' gift to horse racing events the world over. Most similar events have now incorporated fashion into what would otherwise be a mere sweaty, betting and boozing male prerogative. Celebrity judges and international media personalities have added to the glamour and over all feel good element, and you're left in no doubt as to the immense proportions of this mega event.

The ladies have now taken over this carnival which also races horses. The amount of exuberance and energy that the Oaks Day lends to the Carnival has to be seen to be believed. Women gather in their thousands dressed in gorgeous outfits and magnificent hats, all made up and dolled up with their best foot forward. A designer hat, handbag and a glass of champagne are mandatory accessories. Though most are aware that there is a horse race imminent and are heavily into the betting scene, there are at least a few who wouldn't know the front end of a horse from its rear if they bumped into one.

Past Oaks Day winners fittingly include: Miss Finland, Serenade Rose, Special Harmony, Magical Miss, Lovelorn, Samantha Miss, and Dear Demi. Is this some freaky coincidence or what!?

Depending on how you look at it. This is the day that ladies flock to Flemington and where there are ladies.. there a hopeful blokes. It is for this reason that Oaks Day brings in larger crowds each year, the rate at which they are coming in is growing quicker than any other day at the Carnival. This is interesting considering Melbourne Cup Day is the only day of the four day Spring Carnival that is a public holiday, yet Oaks Day somehow still manages to bring in well over 70,000 fans!

The Victorian Racing Club's attempt to lure female fans to the race track has worked very well. The annual fashions on the field events have given rise to a new type of atmosphere previously unheard of. The concept has grown since then, and can be seen imitated by other racing carnivals in countries from all over the world. The Spring Racing Carnival has been a trend setter of international fashion for many years, and a massive part of Australian culture as a whole, in good and bad. The drinking and partying seems to be the main event for the majority of racegoers.

The main race on Oaks Day is the Group One Crown Oaks for three year old, over a distance of 2500 metres. The race is sponsored by the Crown Casino, and the traditionally heralded race in the lead up is the Wakeful Stakes, run over 2000 metres on Victoria Derby Day.

Stakes Day

And then comes the last day of the Carnival, the Stakes Day, which is fittingly nominated as Family Day. On this day the kids have their Fashion on the Field Day and win huge prizes for the whole family. They get to interact with TV stars, play games, go on rides and simply enjoy themselves. They of course get to see the horses run like mad to win their prizes. That brings the curtains down on a series of equestrian events that held a nation in thrall. One can only wonder if the horses realise what the fuss is all about.

Stakes Day would have to be the perfect ending to a perfect event. This event signals the end of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, and it is called a Family Day with special emphasis on the children.

On Stakes Day kids whoop it up with a whole lot of activities that are perfect to keep their thrill levels high -- Jumping Castle, Animal Farm, and even Mini golf. The whole event goes to show that when Emirates does something, they do so in style. They even have a Kids Fashions on the Field which really has to be the cutest show on earth. Stakes Day is when kids get to show off some fashion and moms and dads can send their wine-stained party wear to the dry cleaners. They are judged by celebrities and come under two categories -- junior and teens. The lucky winners get to win fabulous prizes that include overseas trips for the whole family. Kids also get to go on rides, have their faces painted and play various games and of course, watch the horse race, which is what it is really about. Not surprisingly, there are many tots who go back home that day having decided they want to be jockeys when they grow up.

This day is for the ultimate horse racing fanatic who didn't get enough of it in the past ten days. Most mortals are raced out by the Cup day or at least by Oaks Day, and would be happy to catch the rest of it on TV. But apparently there are the die hard fans of the equestrian sport who are bent on squeezing out all they can. There are also the wiser ones who gave the go by to all the insanely overcrowded affairs, and attend the more sober, sedate Stakes Day when the hyper active elements of society are at home nursing hangovers the size of a horse.

On Stakes Day the attention shifts back to the horses as the family oriented audience realizes this is the last chance they have, to witness the majesty of a horse running at full speed ahead, with the jockeys perched so precariously on their backs. This is the last chance to hear the thundering hooves come rumbling from a distance and gets closer by the second. This is also when you notice the beautiful blooms and the shrubs and trees that go to make this one of the most beautiful, lively places in this splendid city, and decide that you definitely have to come again next year.

Recent Stakes Day winners include Divine Madonna, Valedictum, Sky Cuddle, Titanic Jack, Scenic Peak, Desert Eagle and Testa Rossa.

Stakes Day, originally held in 1881, is a major part of the Australian Racing Calender and the day itself features nine horse races. Two of these featured races include the Group 1 Emirates Stakes, a sought after handicap consisting of 1600 metres in total, as well as the Patinack Farm Classic, which was won by the highly decorated mare Black Caviar, in 2010 and 2011. But it's not just the horses, jockeys, owners and trainers who get the spotlight on Stakes Day; the fashions on the field for both women and children provide an excellent way for the crowd to get involved in what is making the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival a world wide sporting event.

The Emirates Stakes Day fashion contests include catwalk and best dressed competitions, and are a great way for everything, including the children, to be seen in the latest dresses, suits and other attire. These fashion events were first held in 1994, and as race wear has advanced since then, 2011 saw a new family category which was introduced allowing the entire family to join in on the fun. The success of these events is evident, and the 2013 Stakes Day fashions on the field will be no different.

The judges for the Emirates Stakes Day fashion contests always look for interesting, fun and fashionable race wear. There are celebrity judges, as well as representatives from the fashion industry to determine the winners by the appropriateness of garments for the wearer's age combined with the climate on the actual race day; as well as how stylish, well groomed and original the outfits appear to them. All in all, judges are looking for bright and fun fashion sense that represents the Spring Carnival as a whole. If you choose to compete in fashion on the fields contests, remember that it's not always about winning - it's about having a great time!

Getting to the Flemington Racecourse

At Flemington there is limited public parking available - enter from Smithfield Road at the Stables Drive entrance. Get in early to secure a spot. If it is full you may be able to find parking on nearby side streets. Getting to Flemington racecourse on Melbourne Cup Day is best done by train as the station is right in front of the racecourse, or taking a taxi. Trams and buses are also readily available.

If you need to drive you will be better off parking in Footscray and taking a taxi from there to the racecourse. There are two car parks is Footscray, one at Footscray McDonalds and another at the Western General Hospital.

Public transport is readily available, convenient and highly recommended due to masses of people and potential traffic jams. To find more about the public transport go to

Image: Flemington Racecourse (track)

Flemington Race Track Map

Quick stats:

  • Circumference: 2312 metres
  • Direction: Anti-clockwise
  • Straight: 450 metres

Flemington Racecourse is a horse racing venue located in Melbourne, Australia. Known best for hosting the Melbourne Cup, which is the world's richest handicap horse race. The racecourse is situated next to the Maribyrnong River and about 5 km east from the Melbourne CBD.

Flemington Racecourse has a spacious wide track with long sweeping turns. It is also used for straight track racing for 1000-1200m racing.

Some of the famous Group 1 races held at Flemington Racecourse, in addition to the Melbourne Cup, include Australian Cup, Australian Guineas, Mackinnon Stakes, Newmarket Handicap, Victoria Derby, Crown Oaks and Turnbull Stakes, and more.

Some Flemington Racecourse History

Robert Fleming who kept a few head of cattle and ran a nondescript butchery on the banks of the Maribyrnong, probably had no inkling that his name would become associated with a global event that served to put Australia on the world map. His land became part of the Melbourne Racecourse that later on developed into the Flemington Racecourse in the 1860s, encompassing a massive 320 acres.

Its humble beginnings in 1861, when it was little more than a haphazard path cut out among tall grass, has now transformed to a pear shaped beauty with vital statistics loved by jockeys from down under and all over. It is synonymous with the Melbourne Cup Day that has made it well known among racing aficionados. The race takes off on an anticlockwise direction on a course incorporating graceful sweeping curves and a long straight ending at the winning post. There is also a 1200 metre straight known as the "Straight Six," from the pre-metric system era, when the distance was denoted as six furlongs.

R.C.Bagot, the first Secretary of the newly formed Victoria Racing Club took his job seriously and played a huge part in the phenomenal growth and development of the racecourse on an upward trajectory that soon showed results. The New Years Day Bagot Handicap is in recognition of his remarkable contribution to the VRC and a race crazy public. In 1925, the Old Members Grandstand was built and presented to the public, followed by the four tiered Hill Stand strategically located in front of the winning post, in 1977. This place boasts exclusive restaurants, bars, and bookmakers, or anything a racegoers heart might desire.

The Birdcage which today houses the horses before the races, was earlier the place where gentlemen paraded their female partners in all their finery, signifying the rather inglorious name. Thankfully this practice faded into obscurity during the 1960s. A new Grandstand was opened at a cost of $45 million to accommodate the rising numbers in 2000.

Today the Flemington racecourse is one of the most beautiful spots in the city of Melbourne. The place blazes in a colourful riot of roses and well manicured greens that impresses visitors and thrills the locals with pride. There are about eleven gardeners who take personal pride in getting the place all spruced up and flowering in time for the descending horde of racegoers. The race ground pays tribute to the legendary Phar Lap in the form of a true to life bronze statue. A similar honour is to be bestowed on Makybe Diva for her awesome record of three consecutive wins.

This historic race course has now been placed on the National Heritage List right along side the Sydney Opera House, giving Melbourne an opportunity for chest thumping and yet another reason to celebrate.

Video: A fictitious 3D animated Melbourne Cup race of the best of the 24 winners going head to head.


What to wear to the Melbourne Cup Carnival?

It's a well known fact that fashion is as much a part of the Melbourne Cup Carnival as the racing itself - if not more so. It's a chance for ladies to flaunt their glamorous sides, and gentlemen to express sophistication and flair. Pre-planning is essential and needs to take into account the weather, the latest trends and your own individual physique and style. Whether you're picnicking on the lawns or mixing with the elite in the Marquees, there are some basic fashion guides you can adhere to:

For Ladies

Ladies are expected to maintain a suitable standard in keeping with the dress code of the Member's Enclosure at Flemington. This means no denim, untailored pants, shorts or leggings - or displaying midriffs.

Keep it simple and elegant. Wear a dress with a long or short sleeve avoiding strapless dresses that can look tasteless. The hem should sit just above the knee, or just below. Ultra modern and minimal styles as well as vintage-inspired dresses are the height of fashion this year. Tailored pants or jump suits will also be extremely popular: look for a wide-leg pant or a slim pant with a flared leg. Take into account Melbourne's unpredictable weather; if the forecast is cool a relaxed blazer can add style and warmth to an elegant pantsuit. Another trend to consider is the floral dress, which were the rave at The Royal Ascot in the UK this year and many predict this fashion fever to spread to Melbourne for the Spring Carnival.

Accessories are an essential part of a lady's outfit. Some consider the fascinator to be a dying fashion although they can, if chosen carefully, still be an elegant finishing touch to the right outfit. Hats and headpieces are extremely popular as well as fresh flowers that are either woven into a headpiece or worn directly onto the hair.

The right shoes complete any outfit. You may spend hours on your feet, so make sure you wear shoes that are comfortable and tested. Midas and Tony Bianco offer fashionable ladies' shoes that are flattering, comfortable and affordable.

Colour scheme should be considered carefully taking into account simplicity is often key. Race meets seem to be more about the hat in recent events, so consider a plain dress or suit of one colour and picking a bolder colour on top. A navy hat and clutch, for example, can look elegant with a plain white dress.

Consider the dress theme for the day: Black and White for Derby Day and brighter colours for Oaks Day. Emirates Stakes day has more of a jovial, garden-party atmosphere, although no less formal.

For Gentlemen

The Melbourne Cup Carnival is not just a women's fashion event with many men striving to flaunt their stylish tastes also. The VCR dress code requires gentlemen to wear a suit of tailored slacks, sports coat or blazer and a tie and dress shoes. Jackets may be taken off during the summer months.

Look for a quality-made suit that's tailored to fit your physique. With the heat of summer, lightweight wool, silk and cashmere suits will be popular. If you want to wear something a little different, three-piece suits are the rave this year. Pastel shirts are popular with grey suits and pin stripes are considered to be the height of fashion.

If you're after something more conservative you could go for the Italiano style of beige in linens with accessories that match the shade of your suit. Your belts and shoes should always match one another. Florsheim shoes offer a wide range of men's race shoes.

If you're after something a little edgy and ahead-of-the-times consider steel blue suits matched with a dark tie and vamp it up with brown or tan shoes and a belt. Metallic suits will be huge this year matched with a white shirt and black accessories.

Accessories are no longer just for ladies! Gangster style hats and tweed and felt trilbies are the rave for men this season. If you're accompanying a lady friend, consider a pochette to match the colours of her outfit. Add a lapel flower for an elegant finishing touch, but remember that each race day has its own flower: Yellow Rose for Melbourne Cup Day, Cornflower for Victoria Derby Day, Pink Rose for Crown Oaks Day and Red Rose for Emirates Stakes Day.

Don't forget your sunnies!