Beginner’s guide to the 2010 Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival

8 September 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

Check out Ben’s Melbourne Cup Day preview here.

Have you ever wondered why every spring hundreds of thousands of people get so excited about horse racing? Have you ever thought about going to the Spring Racing Carnival?

Running for around six weeks from the start of October till mid November, the Spring Racing Carnival turns over more money into the Victorian economy than any other annual event. It is held at four different racetracks, with crowds ranging from just a few thousand to over 100,000 From horses to fashion and everything in between this beginner’s guide will help you identify which day of the 2010 Spring Racing Carnival best suits you.


While there is no actual official starting date to the carnival, the Turnbull Stakes meeting at Flemington, now moved to the day after this year’s AFL Grand Final replay, is widely regarded as the unofficial start.

The schedule for the seven weeks of the 2010 Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is as follows:

Sunday October 3 – Turnbull Stakes Day, Flemington – $30 Adult, $20 Student Concession

Saturday October 9 – Caulfield Guineas Day, Caulfield – $40 Adult, $20 Student Concession

Wednesday October 13 – Thousand Guineas Day, Caulfield – $25 Adult, $15 Student Concession

Saturday October 16 – Caulfield Cup Day, Caulfield – $55 (No Student Concession available)

Saturday October 23 – Cox Plate Day, Moonee Valley – $55 Adult, $35 Student Concession

Saturday October 30 – Derby Day, Flemington -$72 Adult, $58 Student Concession

Tuesday November 2 – Melbourne Cup Day, Flemington – $70 Adult, $58 Student Concession

Thursday November 4 – Oaks Day, Flemington – $61 Adult, $50 Student Concession

Saturday November 6 – Stakes/Family Day, Flemington – $46 Adult, $38 Student Concession

Saturday November 13 – Sandown Classic Day, Sandown – $20 Adult, $10 Student Concession

Getting there

While all four of the Melbourne metropolitan racetracks have car parking available, during the spring carnival it can become very hard to get a park if you do not arrive on track early. Far and away the best bet (pardon the pun) is to use public transport. All tracks either have their own train station or one within very close walking distance. Depending on where you live, trams or buses are also good options. A huge benefit of using public transport instead of driving is it means you can have a few drinks without the worry of having to drive home. It also makes it far easier for large groups of you and your friends to travel into the races together.


First off it must be noted that the whole week of the Flemington Melbourne Cup Carnival (Derby, Cup, Oaks and Stakes/Family Day) is a pre-ticketed event. This means that tickets are not available on the gate and must be purchased either through ticketing agency Ticketmaster or at Southern Cross station before the actual race day. For all other days of the carnival tickets are available on the gate or via the relevant club website/ticketing agency.

Entry to the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is generally not cheap, as it is the one chance that race clubs get to cash in on their time in the sun. Tickets range from as much as $72 for an adult on Derby Day at Flemington to as little as $10 for a student on Sandown Classic Day at Sandown (full list of ticket prices above).

It also must be noted this year that student concession tickets WILL again be available for the Flemington carnival and that they WILL NOT be available on Caulfield Cup Day.

Food and Drink

One of the best things you can do if you are going as a group to the Spring Carnival this year is to bring your food/drinks (non alcoholic) with you. Picnic baskets and Eskies are both allowed as long as you do not bring alcohol into the course.

Although I do not condone the following kind of behaviour, university students have been known in the past to smuggle alcohol into the course in various ways as to avoid paying both the hefty prices and waiting in the long lines at the bar. Whilst trying to avoid being detected by the security on entry, I have seen and heard of students using hollowed out loafs of bread or boxes of Pringles with alcohol stashed inside as well as many other types of colourful ideas. Of course while this kind of thing does happen, if you are caught trying to bring alcohol into the course it will be confiscated and destroyed.

The main reason it is a good idea to bring your own food and drink to the racecourse is the limited variety and inflated prices of what is available on track.


If you have never placed a bet or been to the races before then there are a few things you need to know. You have many different options available to you when placing a bet ranging from the traditional win/place bet where your horse has to either win or run in the first three across the line, to exotics such as a trifecta where you must pick the first three horses over the line. If you are not an experienced punter then I would suggest it is much easier and simpler to stick to win, place and each way betting. While quinellas, trifectas and quaddies can be fun, they can also be quite expensive and complicated.

Many first time racegoers often don’t know that you have the option of betting with either the oncourse bookmakers, or the oncourse Tote facilities (TAB). It is hard enough to pick a winner; you definitely don’t want to be getting ripped off with the odds you take, so always check whether your horse is paying better with either the bookies or the TAB.

Finally and most importantly always only bet what you are happy to lose, set out a budget for betting at the start of the day and that way any winnings are a bonus and make a good day even better.

What to wear

Now I certainly do not profess to be any kind of fashion expert, but there are a few points that are worth mentioning to anyone thinking of heading to the Spring Racing Carnival for the first time.

The Spring Racing Carnival is a very traditional event and part of the fun is the glamour of everyone dressing up. While there is not a strict dress code for general admission tickets, and casual attire is certainly allowed, it is the norm for guys to wear suits and girls to wear dresses with either a hat/fascinator.

The most common fashion mistake committed by young men attending the races for their first time is to wear light coloured shoes (i.e white) with a dark coloured suit. DO NOT do this, no matter how good you think it might look it stands out like a sore thumb and is not a good look.

Which day should I go?

What kind of experience you are looking for?

If what you’re after is a relaxing day without the huge crowds that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg, then I would suggest either Turnbull Stakes Day at Flemington Sandown Classic day at the end of the carnival at Sandown.

If you are purely interested in going for the atmosphere or to enjoy a social occasion then you cannot go past the Flemington carnival. Derby, Cup and Oaks Day as well as Caulfield Cup Day all feature huge crowds and a party-like atmosphere which is similar to a music festival. At Flemington this is contrast against the stunning backdrop of the racecourse when the sun is shining down and the roses in bloom.

Cox Plate Day at Moonee Valley is traditionally a day for the racing purist, and the crowd tends to be more interested in the racing. On the other hand Caulfield Guineas Day and Stakes/Family Day at Flemington are somewhere in between, with great racing and smaller crowds than the first three days of the Flemington carnival or Caulfield Cup Day. This means much more room to move about making it easier to place a bet, get a drink and go to the toilet without having to wait in line.

Whatever day you choose, the Spring Racing Carnival is an event not to be missed. It is a great chance to forget about assignments or exams for a day and let your hair down. While it may seem like a lot of money for a university student struggling to make ends meet, it is definitely an experience worth putting a little bit of your hard earned aside for.

Personally I have attended carnivals at Royal Ascot in England and Royal Randwick in Sydney and can say without question that they have nothing in comparison with the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. Do yourself a favour and make sure that you attend at least one day of what is without doubt the jewel in Melbourne’s events calendar. 

For more information on the carnival, check out the Racing Victoria website.

And just up on upstart, Evan Harding on the  international contigent preparing for their tilt at this year’s Melbourne Cup and Ben Asgari’s Caulfield Guineas Day preview.

Ben Asgari is a second-year student at La Trobe University who blogs at where this article is also posted. Follow Ben on Twitter at