The Spring Carnival explained

It’s one of the most prominent events on Australia’s sporting calendars, yet most of us are left confused by the hustle and bustle of Melbourne Cup Week. With four diverse days on the agenda, each with different race parameters and distinct dress codes, it can be hard to keep up – don’t even get us started on horseracing jargon! To help you get your head around this iconic week of racing, fashion and celebration, we’ve created a guide to each day so you’ll be an expert in no time. 

Derby Day 

When: Saturday November 3 

Where: Flemington Racecourse (448 Epsom Rd, Flemington VIC 3031) 

Derby Day kicks off Melbourne Cup Week with nine races, four of them at Group 1 level (the highest level of thoroughbred horse racing). The premier event is the Victoria Derby; at 2500m long, it’s one of the most gruelling races on the Spring Carnival calendar. The Derby is the domain of three-year-old horses that are bred and trained in Australia and New Zealand. Due to discrepancies in breeding times between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, international horses often don’t race the Derby as they’re still only two-years-old. The winner of the Derby collects $2 million, and it’s thought to be a great predictor of future Melbourne Cup victors. 

Gates open to general admission attendees and members at 8.30am, while the last race is run at 5.20pm. The Victoria Derby is scheduled to run at 3.50pm this year. The dress code is strictly black and white, so make sure that you dress your monochromatic best. Men can wear grey suits to stand out from the crowd, but this definitely isn’t the occasion to wear the brightest outfit in your wardrobe. 

Melbourne Cup 

When: Tuesday November 6 

Where: Flemington Racecourse (448 Epsom Rd, Flemington VIC 3031)

One of the most iconic events in Australian sport, Melbourne Cup Day is an opportunity for horseracing enthusiasts, punters and racegoers to celebrate in style. The race to watch is the one that stops a nation – the Melbourne Cup. The toughest race of the Spring Racing Carnival, at 3200m in length and worth $7.3 million in prizemoney, the Melbourne Cup catches the eyes of viewers around the world. The race has become a global affair as more internationally bred and trained horses take the field. Australasian horses are typically not known for being ‘stayers’ (long distance racers), so international competitors have captured the Cup in recent years. Winning a Melbourne Cup guarantees legend status for the horse, jockey, trainers and owners, proving just how prestigious this event is in the horseracing world. For the folk who choose to watch from home, it’s a chance to get one up on family and friends in the ‘sweep’. 

Flemington opens its gates at 8.30am and doesn’t close them until after the last race at 5.20pm. Make sure you’re ready to go at 3pm, which is when the Cup is run. If you want to make the ultimate fashion statement, Cup Day is the chance to do it – you’ll often see male and female racegoers alike dressed in the brightest and boldest colours, patterns and millinery. As the official flower of the Melbourne Cup, try to incorporate a yellow rose into your outfit. 

Oaks Day 

When: Thursday November 8 

Where: Flemington Racecourse (448 Epsom Rd, Flemington VIC 3031)

After a couple of days of recovery post-Melbourne Cup, dedicated racegoers return to Flemington for what’s known as Ladies’ Day. This event is the chance to celebrate everything graceful and stylish, with the penultimate winner of the women’s Fashions on the Field competition being announced after two rounds of adjudication on Derby and Melbourne Cup Days. Horseracing wise, make sure you catch the Oaks – a 2500m race worth $1 million that tests the stamina of Australia’s best three-year-old fillies. 

Arrive at 10.15am as the gates open, watch the Oaks at 5pm before heading home when gates shut after the last race at 5.45pm. In regard to fashion, it’s the perfect opportunity to wear your prettiest colours and prints. Ladies often go for girly details like frills and pastel colours, while the boys can get involved with patterned shirts, ties and pocket squares in neutral hues. 

Stakes Day 

When: Saturday November 10 

Where: Flemington Racecourse (448 Epsom Rd, Flemington VIC 3031)

The finale of Melbourne Cup Week, Stakes Day is all about friends, family and fun. It’s an opportunity for racegoers to let their hair down and celebrate another year of the Spring Racing Carnival. The premier event on Stakes Day is the Emirates Stakes, where Australia’s best thoroughbreds race over 2000m for $2 million in prizemoney. The Emirates Stakes are raced under weight-for-age conditions, where allowances are afforded to younger horses to enhance their competitiveness against older, stronger ones. These allowances propose that the younger the horse, the less weight they are permitted to carry, meaning that older horses shoulder the heaviest weights. Another feature of Stakes Day is the $1 million VRC Sprint, where some of the world’s fastest horses race down the famous Flemington straight. 

Gates open at 10.15am and close at 5.45pm after the last race of the carnival. Clear your schedule for 4.55pm, when the Emirates Stakes are run. The dress code is generally more relaxed on Stakes Day than the other three days of Cup Week, but you still need to wear racewear attire. Ladies tend to lean towards floaty silhouettes, low heels and appropriate headwear, while men opt for relaxed yet tailored separates with fun touches like bow ties and the signature Stakes Day red rose.