STOP PRESS: When you’ve read this piece, check out Ben Asgari’s Sandown Classic day preview
Ever wondered why every spring hundreds of thousands of people get dressed up to go to the races? Have you ever been one of them? Held over the course of about a month from October into mid-November, the Spring Racing Carnival churns more money into the Victorian economy than any other annual event in Australia. 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 week-by-week guide will help you get set to saunter into the starting stalls.
The carnival officially starts on Caulfield Guineas day on Saturday and runs until Sandown Classic day on Saturday 14 November. The schedule of the nine days of the 2009 Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is as follows:
Saturday October 10 – Caulfield Guineas Day, Caulfield – (A) $45 (C) $25
Wednesday October 14 – Thousand Guineas Day, Caulfield – (A) $25 (C) $15
Saturday October 17 – Caulfield Cup Day, Caulfield – (A) $55 (C) $38
Saturday October 24 – Cox Plate Day, Moonee Valley – (A) $50, (C) $35
Saturday October 31 – Derby Day, Flemington – $70
Tuesday November 3 – Melbourne Cup Day, Flemington – $70
Thursday November 5 – Oaks Day, Flemington – $70
Saturday November 7 – Emirates Stakes/Family Day – Flemington – $45
Saturday November 14 – Sandown Classic Day, Sandown – (A) $20, (C) $12
***(A) – Adult, (C) – Concession
While all four of the Melbourne metropolitan racetracks have car parking available, 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 another good option. A huge benefit of using public transport is that you can have a few drinks without worrying about driving home. It also makes it far easier for large groups to travel together to and from the course.
The whole week of the Flemington carnival from Derby Day to Stakes Day including both Cup Day and Oaks Day is pre- ticketed, which means you have to buy your ticket from either Ticketmaster or at Southern Cross station before heading to the track. For all other days of the Spring Carnival, tickets can be purchased either at the gate on the day or from the club , or from the relevant ticketing outlet.
Entry’s not cheap as it is the only chance race clubs have to cash in on their time in the sun. General admission to Flemington during Melbourne Cup week is a flat adult rate of $70 with the exception of Stakes/Family day which is slightly less expensive. There are no concession tickets available for the Flemington carnival. Every other day of the carnival offers a 20 to 30% discount for students with a valid concession card. For example, Cox Plate day is $50 entry for an adult, but $35 concession. All adult and student concession prices are listed on the race dates above.
Nourishment and refreshment
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 and (non-alcoholic) beverages. Picnic baskets and Eskies are both allowed as long as you do not bring alcohol into the course. Self-catering also makes sense when you factor in 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 the options might seem mind-boggling. They range 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. 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 (which is having some money on both win and place bets for the same horse) While exotics such as quinellas, trifectas and quaddies can be fun, they can also be quite expensive and complicated. Many first-time racegoers also do not know that you have the option of betting with either the on course bookmakers, or the oncourse Tote facilities (TAB). It is hard enough to pick a winner, so 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 (although keep in mind that with the TAB the odds can change after you place your bet). Finally, always only bet what you are happy to lose. Tha way, any winnings are a bonus and make a good day even better.
What to wear
I am certainly not going to profess to be an expert on fashion, but what I will say to anyone thinking of heading to the races for the first time is remember to keep things classy. True, there is not a strict dress code for general admission tickets, but it’s normal for guys to wear suits and girls to wear dresses with a hat/fascinator. Rule number one for guys thinking of attending this year’s carnival: DO NOT wear light coloured shoes with a dark suit. This is the most common fashion crime made by young men, and trust me, it is not a good look.
Which day should I go?
This is really a personal decision based on what kind of experience you are looking for. Interested in a relaxing day without huge crowds that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg? Then I’d would suggest either Thousand Guineas day at Caulfield or Sandown Classic day at the end of the carnival. If you are purely after a more social atmosphere then you can’t go past the Flemington carnival. Derby, Cup and Oaks day as well as Caulfield Cup day all feature huge crowds and a party-like vibe which is comparable to a music festival. Cox Plate day at Moonee Valley is traditionally a day for the racing purist and the crowd tends to be more interested in the horses.
On the other hand. Caulfield Guineas Day and Stakes/Family day are somewhere in between, with the crowds being nowhere near as big as 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 shouldn’t 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 to stump up, it is definitely an experience worth putting a little bit of your hard-earned aside for. Having attended the most famous and well-known Carnival in the world, Royal Ascot in England, I can it has nothing in comparison to the variety, atmosphere and sheer scale of the Melbourne Spring Carnival. Do yourself a favour and make sure that you sample 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.