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Indulging in Australia's Most Poshest of Affairs, The Melbourne Cup Carnival

Photos Credit Getty Images Courtesy of VRC

The Melbourne Cup is a big deal.  On the first Tuesday of November, Australia’s largest sporting event literally stops the nation. This down under spectacular draws nearly 100 thousand fans to the Flemington Racecourse and is also the impetus behind full-on events and viewing parties all over the country.   The best way to understand the Melbourne Cup would be to imagine if the Kentucky Derby and the Royal Ascot were combined with the Olympics, Superbowl, and Paris Fashion Week and took place on the same day and in the same place.  That’s the Melbourne Cup and it happens each spring down under.

Melbourne Cup Race week consists of four days of horse racing in what is defined as a carnival. The action at the Victoria Racing Club’s Flemington Racecourse grounds takes place beyond the races with over the top fashion competitions and posh venues for enjoying the action on and away from the track. Beyond all of that, the zenith of Australia’s high-society social calendar is The Bird Cage where Australia’s toniest luxury brands host uber-private trackside viewing parties.

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

Elsewhere around Australia, viewing parties are held where guests dress to the nines as if they are planning a post-race appearance in the winner’s circle. Outside of Australia the Melbourne Cup airs on television around the world and in the USA on CBS. The impact of the race to the greater Melbourne area is over $300 million (USD). However, there’s nothing like being there in person in the midst of the excitement, pomp and circumstance while sharing the four days of racing in the company of the 275,000-plus crowd.  

Photos Credit Getty Images Courtesy of VRC

The first Melbourne Cup took place over a century and a half ago in 1861 with a grand prize of $900 and a gold watch. This modest beginning was the foundation of one of the largest races in the world that today shells out over $5 million USD to the winner and is watched by millions of people around the world. The Melbourne Cup is the most prestigious of the four days of races that take place during the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. The 2019 winner was Vow and Declare who won in a thrilling come from behind victory in the two-mile race. Throughout the four days of racing 487 horses competed in 37 races for their share in over $18 million (USD) in prize money.  The four race days begin on the first Saturday with the AAMI Victoria Derby Day, Tuesday’s Lexus Melbourne Cup Day, Kennedy Oaks Day on the following Thursday, and finally Seppelt Wines Stakes Day which takes place on the last Saturday of the carnival.

Lindsay Lohan Getty Images

This is the time of year where socialites and the Aussie whos-who of high society turn out to strut their closet's most dapper and dazzling attire. The most famous attendee of the past was Princess Diana in 1985 and over the year’s celebs from Sara Jessica Parker, Gigi Hadid to Snoop Dog have attended. In addition to a cattle call of beautiful models, Instagram goddesses, and reality stars, this year’s celebs spotting included speedster Usain Bolt, British Royal Lady Kitty Spencer, and a well-behaved Lindsay Lohan.  

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

The race experience is divided into several environments based on wealth and or privilege. The Member’s Viewing Area is for the established well-to-do and the country’s titans of business who mix and mingle with politicians and racing world elite. Around the Fleming Racecourse grounds are several other viewing venues that range from posh corporate areas to ground areas with catered tents that look like fancy tailgating parties. The general admission zone is essentially a commoner’s area where you’ll see a bit of everything and were canapés for the hoity toity are replaced with picnics on blankets with and a continuous flow of beer and fish and chips. 

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

The grounds of Flemington are truly a celebration of tradition with opulent facilities and ubiquitous rosebushes. In fact, there are 17,000 bushes from 200 varieties bursting in color and fragrance. The beauty of the facilitates extends to a precinct aptly named The Park, which is open to all race goers in a venue that offers a mix of entertainment, stylish bars, and trendy eateries as well as live music by Australia’s  home grown  artists.

Within The Park is the Myer’s Fashions on the Field pavilion. Myer is Australia’s upscale fashion chain most akin to the Saks Fifth Avenue. Each year the luxury fashion retailer hosts fashion competitions and awards events that rival races.

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

Fashion on race day is a serious matter.  This is the big leagues of the country's fashion scene where Australia’s beau monde peacock around the racecourse grounds in brilliantly colored dresses adorned with intricate fascinators accompanied by their accessory in his dashing window pane suits and perfectly composed pocket squares. Beyond the dazzling dresses, women wear incredibly beautiful hats keeping the Australia’s millinery industry in a flutter for months leading up to race week. In fact the parade of elegant hats ranges anywhere in price from $200 all the way to $6000 with women buying as many as six hats for each carnival season.

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

The fashions are not just a wear what you like kind of affair. Each race is orchestrated and controlled by the threat of a day filled with scowls and snickers from those self-proclaimed race week fashionistas, looking down their judgemental noses at the near-do-wells who don’t comply. For Derby Day the mandatory attire is black and white while Tuesday’s Lexus Melbourne Cup Day is all about vibrant color. The Kennedy Oaks Day is known as lady’s day while Seppelt Wines Stakes Day is more of a family affair where there are children in attendance.

Photos Credit Getty Images Courtesy of VRC

The race day fashion is a long-honored competition onto itself that began as part of the Melbourne Cup in 1962 as a way to give the ladies something to look forward to beyond the male-dominated race scene. That fashion appreciation has evolved into a world of decadent designs on display throughout the race park as well as the pinnacle of high style in a competition hosted by Myers in their Fashions on the Field venue. The prize money is staggering with a $300,000 purse for the best-dressed man and woman, millenary and family, including a brand-new new Lexus UX for the men and women’s first place winners.  

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

Without question, the most coveted ticket and the crème de la crème of high-octane race parties is the Bird Cage.  The Bird Cage is a track side venue with 20 or so private viewing buildings called marquees which all compete to be the fanciest, have the best entertainment and throw the best soiree and bragging rights for the year ahead. To get access to the Bird Cage is not easy and tickets are a premium to say the least.

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

Once you’re in The Birdcage, that doesn’t mean you can go where you’d like. There are some common areas however the real action takes place behind the velvet ropes and the model-like clipboard holding door snobs who are well equipped with the frequently issued “you’re not on the list”. With this rebuff, the uninvited ones are then destined for a walk of shame back down the red carpeted steps from whence they came. But for those with the golden ticket, the velvet rope is dropped and indoors is another world. Inside the marquee is a beau monde world of beautiful people wrapped in in haute couture fashion and bespoke suits with perfectly draped pocket squares. 

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

This decadent world is the pinnacle of day drinking with endless flowing fine French champagne, gourmet canapes delivered before one could want, and so much energy and excitement one does not know where to look next. Each marquee seems to compete to be the most talked about hot spot with many importing top international DJs, others with talented live bands, as well as all manner of entertainment from jugglers to poets. Australians know how to let their hair down and as the bubbles flow and the energy climaxes so does the action of the floor where impromptu dancing and dance offs seem to be the norm.

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

For luxury companies, having a marquee at the Bird Cage is the apex of branding as well as the ultimate display of client appreciation. Brands like Lexus, Mumm, Seppelt Wines, and Melbourne Cup organizers, the Victoria Racing Commission, take this opportunity to invite their best clients and deepen relationships while showing them a good time. For the client and the brand, it doesn’t get much better than this.

The Victoria Race Committee, who is the organizer of Melbourne Cup Race Week, hosts their guests at one of the most popular pavilions, 1 Oliver Street. The marquee was created to resemble a French Boudoir and oozed style and sophistication with the perfect mix of fun and frivolity with copious amounts of craft cocktails, champagne and canapes with live music as well.

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

Many of the Haute brands will dole out a king’s ransom to host a pavilion for the sole purpose of fostering deeper relationships with their best clients. The Seppelt Wines Marquee invited their top industry partners to view the races as well as to try some of their newest offerings from Seppelt’s portfolio of wines including their sparkling Shiraz and Spritzed Prosecco in a can. Seppelt is of course one of the premier wine brands in the Treasury Wine Estate group which includes Australia’s most esteemed wine brand, Penfolds as well as Napa Valley’s oldest and most prestigious brand, Beringer Vineyards.

Usain Bolt - Credit Getty Images

Mumm Champagne put on one of the most exciting boltholes at Flemington Racecourse. The fine French champagne brand created a two-story setting resembling a boutique Parisian hotel complete with pill box hatted concierge, flowing brut and rose champagne as well as fresh oysters and canapés galore. On Melbourne Cup race day, Usain Bolt dashed in to have a few bubbles and rub elbows with guests. The ambiance was decadent with a five-piece band belting out top 40 songs and where the action only stopped momentarily to watch the races.

Photos Credit Getty Images Courtesy of VRC

Lexus was the title sponsor the Australia’s biggest day in sport and entertainment, the Melbourne Cup. Needless to say this fine Japanese car brand spared no expense to create the most swanky world-class pavilion in which to enjoy the races. The luxury car brand is all about precision, design and detail and their marquee, aptly named Landmark, was no different. This and was a destination of choice by noted royal socialite and the niece of Princess Di, Lady Kitty Spencer, as well as the cast of the festival’s other notable celebs. Also sighted at the Lexus Landmark pavilion was Gina Rinehart, Australia mining magnate and one of the richest women in the world who earns a reported $1 million every half hour, or a meager $598 every second.

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

The Lexus Landmark three story pavilion offered a first floor reserved for welcome drinks and a chance to mingle around the Australian-first prototype reveal of the new Lexus LC Convertible. The second floor hosted a long bar filled with champs and cocktails as well as canapes served at tables where guests caught up with friends or met new ones. The talent was beyond belief with DJs and a parade of high-intensity performers who literally whipped the guests into a frenzy on the dance floor. Outdoors provided guests with a wide open patio serving drinks as well as a chef and staff serving Japanese robata grilled canapes and bento boxes. The al fresco terrace spread the length of the marquee and faced the pole position of the race track providing guests with unobstructed high-level views of the race finish and a chance to watch these magnificent beasts speed around the track.

Photo Credit Glenn Harris

An invitation to the Lexus Marquee was clearly the golden ticket of the Melbourne Cup. Yet the third floor provided an even more exclusive invite to the 90-seat haute designed restaurant reserved for the highest echelon of client who dined on a four course gourmet meal by one of Melbourne’s top restaurateurs, Oakridge.  

British Royal Lady Kitty Spencer Credit Getty Images

The Melbourne Cup Carnival is truly an incredible four days of racing and the zenith of the Australian society calendar. The majesty of the horse races and the large purse for the winner create and exciting spectacle that has thrilled Australians for over 150 years. Today the action has gone to a completely new level with ultra-high fashion and incredible entertainment such as those daytime soirées in the Bird Cage. The Melbourne Cup Carnival, there’s literally nothing else like it anywhere else in the world. 

Glenn Harris

Glenn Harris is an accomplished journalist focusing on international travel, fine dining, and luxury lifestyle events. His wanderlust has taken him to over 105 countries where he is constantly straying off the beaten path uncovering new and exotic finds. He particularly enjoys seeking out lesser known travel gems and places to stay, dine, or experiences to capture. ...(Read More)

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