The Melbourne Cup is as synonymous as Uluru as an Australian icon and is one of the world’s most famous horse races.
It really is the race that stops our Nation, literally. No matter whether you are a regular follower of horse racing or not, come Melbourne Cup day almost everyone stops to either attend a function, watch the race on the TV or listen to the race call. Even those who don’t usually have a bet get caught up in the excitement and will have a little wager or be a part of a sweep.
The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861, and the Victorians have celebrated this day with a public holiday since 1877; which in itself says something, a state holiday for a horse race! The popularity of Melbourne Cup and its ability to bring together the whole nation is not a coincidence. It stems from history where the first Australian race meet held in Sydney in 1810 was organised by Governor Macquarie as part of a plan to improve the cultural life of Sydney.
The racecourse was a neutral meeting place for colonists of all classes. The wealthy dressed in their finest and the milliners, dressmakers and tailors went
to see their handiwork on display. Even back then, the two-legged ‘fillies’ were attracting a lot of attention.
Mark Twain attended the Melbourne Cup in 1895 and said, “Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me.”
It didn’t take long for the crowds at the Flemington track in Melbourne to take this a step further, transforming the race meets into fashion spectaculars; the Melbourne Cup is not known as the urban fashion parade for unfounded reasons.
Ladies attendance to the track, however, did wane in the 1960’s which led to the Victorian Racing Committee holding the first Fashions on the Field competition in 1962, to entice the ladies back.
It appears it worked.
Melbourne Cup day is part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival that encompasses four major race days filled with fashion, fillies and well-dressed bucks. The excitement for this carnival begins months in advance and the preparation for the outfits, even longer. Racegoers, men and women, attend in outfits of spectacular style and sophistication that is unrivalled anywhere else.
All over Australia functions and luncheons are organised with big screens to view the race, and numerous sweeps and prizes up for grabs, with ‘best dressed’ and ‘best millinery’ always being hotly contested. This hype and excitement for the Melbourne Cup, whether you are following the horses or the fashion, really does permeate every corner of our nation.
It is the mix of good company, horse racing, fashion and the party atmosphere that has almost every Australian on their feet screaming every year come the first Tuesday in November.
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