I’m fairly certain that Australia is the only place in the world that grants a public holiday for a horse race. I knew the Melbourne Cup was a big deal, but was completely unprepared for just how much Australians love this race. The first Melbourne Cup took place in 1861 and has been the highlight of the spring social and fashion scene ever since.
I attended the AAMI Victoria Derby Day the Saturday before the Melbourne Cup, which is held on the first Tuesday in November. I received quite a bit of advice from Melbournians before the race, and want to share their tips and a few I picked up at the race with you.
Why go to the Melbourne Cup AAMI Victoria Derby Day
Holy Moly! I thought Melbourne was fashionable before the races, but I’m ready to dub the racing scene Fashion Week’s little sister. As an American I’ve been, well, fascinated by fascinators since Will and Kate’s royal wedding. I remember watching the ceremony with friends and wondering what the heck Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie had on their heads. Soon after, I wondered why we didn’t top off our big, Texas hair with wearable sculptures, and I’ve been biding my time until the day I’d get to wear one.
Derby Day was my chance, and I was not about to miss it. I was absolutely blown away by all of the fascinators… many of which looked like Lady Gaga meets hotspot, and had me wondering if the wearer received good wifi signal.
And the dresses. Oh, the dresses. Derby Day is a traditionally black and white day, but it was as far from boring as you could get. Dresses ranged from club to classy and displayed all the most current fashion.
There is no formal dress code for general admission, but most of the attendees followed the policy that’s set out for the Member’s Enclosure, Birdcage and Reserved Carparks. As with anything, there are always a few rule-breakers among the crowd. These colorful men were my favorites. So… who wore the fascinator best? Me or the dude in the Island Vibes suit?
Although the day is all about horse races, it’s the racegoers who are the real winners, thanks to generous sponsors.
Red Rock Deli passed out thousands of little bags of their Special Reserve, ultra deluxe chips. I’m partial to the champagne vinaigrette and shallot flavor, and couldn’t turn down a free sample.
And about as far from potato chips as you can get: the L’Oréal Paris Powder Room. It was so nice to escape the sun, heat and crowds for a little bit of pampering. Ladies can choose from nails, brows and eyes, lips, highlight and contour, or hair touch up. If that wasn’t enough… they send you back out to the crowds with a makeup bag with full-sized freebies!
The Park is basically a grownup playground. A conglomeration of pop up food trucks, bars, music, and carnival rides, all the fancy racegoers can let loose and be a kid again. Take a spin in a vintage carousel, or twirl your partner as the bands and djs do their thing.
Nothing takes me back to my childhood more quickly than sugar on a stick. A free fairy floss (that’s Australian for cotton candy) added a pop of color and a blood sugar spike as the heat and crowds began to be too much.
We rocked off the train and arrived at Flemington to a New Orleans-style brass band and Vegas-style entertainment. The day was full of surprises and you never know who or what you’ll see!
Some of Melbourne’s hottest restaurants showed up in pop up form to tantalize the tastebuds of all in attendance. Sliders on Tyres, Hanoi Hannah, Saigon Sally, Doughnut Time, and Biggie Smalls showed up and showed off their famous eats. A Peach Don’t Kill my Vibe from Gelato Messina made with peach and champagne sorbet, compressed peaches, peach meringue and peach jellies was a sundae fit for the races!
And I’m pretty sure that the boys from Knafeh were creating baked goodness in their repurposed shipping container, but every time we passed, they were singing and dancing up a storm. I want to be friends with these guys. And since I somehow missed this middle eastern dessert while in Israel, I’ll be visiting these bearded bakers soon!
The Derby is one big party, and there are pop-up drink stands and bars all over the event. Our group was a fan of the $30 bottles of Yellowglen sparkling Brut Cuvée.
Pony Bar inside The Park even had seating areas, which made drinks of any price worth it by the end of the day.
Gentlemen to Help is the most brilliant addition to this fashion-forward event. These gentlemen helpers roam The Park, armed with sunscreen, bobby pins and hairspray to help racegoers avoid any fashion faux-pas. I forgot the SPF while getting ready, but these guys were there to save the day.
Y’all, a girl could get used to this! I’m now taking applications for a permanent gentleman helper.
With so much going on at Flemington, it’s easy to forget the main event! Place a bet on a horse, or get caught up in cheering for the underdog. Either way, it’s sure to be a fun day watching these incredible creatures.
Things to know about the Melbourne Cup
1. Go early.
You may think your friends are crazy for meeting at 9am (because, do they know that pretty does not happen in 30 minutes?!), but trust them. You want to experience this event before it’s crowded with rowdy, drunk people. Secure a spot close to the race track, which brings us to #2.
2. Bring a blanket.
It won’t fit in your clutch, so you’ll be tempted to leave it at home, but I promise you’ll regret it. The blanket marks your territory and gives you a clean, dry place to sit. The grass will soon be soaked with spilled drinks, and dresses and mud don’t mix.
3. H2O is the way to go.
Australian sun is no joke, and dehydration can ruin a day. Drink a LOT of water. Especially if you’re planning to drink a lot of adult beverages.
4. Hit up the food stations early.
You may not be hungry at 11am… but wait until you’re hungry, and you’ll be jockeying (get it? Jockey… Horse race?) with more than 90,000 other hungry people for a place in line.
5. Pace the alcohol consumption.
Derby Day is a long day, which can be made even longer if you’ve overdone it on the alcohol. Don’t be the guy or girl who’s adding color to the rosebushes.
6. Flats are your friend.
I hadn’t worn heels in over a year before I arrived in Melbourne, and jumped at the chance to have a Pretty Woman moment at the races (minus the whole prostitution thing, of course). But new shoes, heat, and uneven ground had me crying for flats. Fold up a pair of Tieks and pop them in your bag for the trip home. Your feet will thank you.