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Turf Deli Spring Racing Carnival - Flemington Track Guide

Turf Deli Track Guide

Flemington Track Guide

Flemington is big. Really big. Mind bogglingly big.

Which is good, as there are not many places that can accommodate the 100,000 or so people that regularly turn up to one of the four days during Cup Week.

Everyone around the country knows about Cup week, one of the biggest sporting events slash parties in Australia.

Kicking off with Derby Day on the Saturday, followed by the Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November, Oaks Day on the Thursday and Stakes Day on the closing Saturday most punters just admit defeat and take the week on annual leave.

Punting holidays are the best sort of vacation you can have - refreshing, fun, and of course, possibly highly profitable.

The VRC are blessed in that the event pretty much promotes itself. They could still pull 100,000 to most days with barely the stingiest of typewritten flyers in mail boxes. Thank goodness they have not resorted to gimmicks like making races later in the day or enrolling B Grade has-been rock stars to belt out well-worn numbers past their use by dates. They don’t need to – Cup Week is self promoting, organic and just happens. It is part of Melbourne tradition, to dress up, socialise, and take a box trifecta on The Cup.


Major Race Days

Derby Day
The most classy day on the Melbourne calendar by the length of the Flemington straight. The dress code goes up a notch on Derby Day - it is classy, stylish, well groomed and expensive. Flemington is better dressed than normal race days regardless, but Derby Day takes it up to another level again. Public transport never looked so classy - the train on the way to Flemington is just so very refined it could be an 19th century steam train on a lazy Sunday outing. Forget all these proposed public transport protective service officers, just imagine if everyone rode the train network every day in their race day finest, that would surely solve the hooligan problem.

On Derby Day, you just walk around and are in awe of all the well dressed and well behaved people. Dressed in their finest race wear.Politely sipping cups of tea, eating plates of club sandwiches and telling amusing anecdotes about last week's croquet game. The crowd regularly tops 100,000 and it is probably the best day of Cup week to go to the races.

Melbourne Cup Day
Still a well dressed crowd, but of course the public can be more like a big day out for anyone with a full to the brim esky and a spare animal costume lying about. Actually, the culture of wearing bizarre costumes to The Cup does seem to have died down over the last decade or so. Gone are the glory days of flocks of guys trekking into the course, dressed in nun habits, guys dressed as fairies, guys dressed in drag, guys dressed as bumble bees, and guys in timeless comedy that is tuxedo tops and board short bottoms. The wife / girlfriend is normally at home, watching the TV, cringing in embarrassment. The VRC admit this concerning decline of wacky costume antics, and are doing their best to attract the particularly sort after gorilla market back to the races. Crowd regularly tops 100,000 plus.

Oaks Day
Oaks Day is a bit like a night club, it is cool to turn up as late as possible. Probably not as dressy as the first two days of Cup week and it can resemble a bit more of a night club crowd later in the afternoon.

It has been astounding to watch the change in Oaks Day over the last 20 years. Believe it or not, it was actually racing administrator Robert Bagot who in mid 1850s first discovered that “where ladies went, men would follow” when he decided to offer two ladies tickets to the Cup for each member. In the mid 1990s Oaks Day was just 50,000 or so ladies, mainly suburban mums having a chance to dress up and have their day out. A bit of a champagne and a giggle and a 50 cents each way bet on anything with the word “Princess” or “Diamond” in it. Believe us – we were working the on-course tote at the time.

From there it built to the “stylish ladies” day out, then it transformed to be the “groups of guys thinking they are on a good thing chasing stylish ladies” day out, and now it tends to be more about “groups of guys wondering why there are more guys than girls on course” day out. The crowd on Oaks Day sky rocketed from 50,000 in the mid 1990s to over 100,000 in the early 2000s and it looked like overtaking the more popular race days. It got to the stage where Oaks Day was pretty much another unofficial public holiday, especially for the corporate CBD crowd who could work the morning and head off to Flemington in the afternoon. The Melbourne train network can struggle to cope with a normal work day peak hour and the race train shuttle, and there has been some famous breakdowns recently. This year to try and ease the crush the races have been moved back later in the day. However it has to be said that recently the crowd has diminished and it is often a quite comfortable 70,000 or so.

Stakes Day
More casual than the other days, but nice casual, but smart race wear for a wind down end to the week. Stakes Day used to be hidden away at the end of Cup Week, a chance for the regular punters to return to the course after the craziness of spring and still see some quality racing. However, Stakes Day has gone totally ballistic over the last ten years, with crowds increasing from around 30,000 to the 80,000 to 100,000 mark. Marketed as kids day, it is a chance for the whole family to head out to Flemington. However it has to be said as those kids mature and ripen and Year 12 exams finish, it is heading towards Caulfield Cup style young and drunk territory. The best thing about Stakes Day ? It is the only racing day of the year where you can buy fairy floss on course.


Where to Meet
Obvious place to meet is outside the Flemington train station at the top or bottom of those amusingly steep to watch drunk people walk up grey stairs. You can't miss them really, they are steep and grey and rather ugly. They also represent a formidable challenge if you are in a large pack of drunken, tired and emotional race goers scaling their dizzy heights on the way home. If you are entering from the other end of the course from the car park then the main turnstiles entrance is probably the best place to meet.

What to Eat
Of course, there are the normal caravans dishing out expensive fried gunk. There is also the on course Nandos out near the bookmakers ring, but the prices are seriously steep compared to their retail outlets. We recommend a nice little food eatery in the enclosed area under the Hill Stand where you can get decent food, including some rather tasty calzone. Actually,  we never knew Benny Hill was such a racing fan, but it was nice of the VRC to name a grandstand after him.

Secret Spot
The lawns are just chockers for the whole week and negotiating your way around is hard work, so there is not much incentive to move around. The one area of the course that gets under-utilised though is the Lawn Stand. At the back of the course, walk up the hill past the train station and past the Tabaret and it is on your left, past the finishing post. Often this stand is largely empty, you can grab a seat and there is a great view over the course, although you are almost watching the races head on. Sitting on concrete isn’t that elegant, but seriously the view is spectacular.

Getting There
By Car Would not bother for the main spring races. Racecourse Road is horrific on any normal Saturday, let alone big race days. The only time to drive is if you are doing the Cup Week car park thing. The nursery car park is so much more refined than the car park down the road at Highpoint Shopping Centre.

By Public Transport Trains leaving Flinders St and Southern Cross every few minutes during Cup week and will take you straight there. Enjoy the scenic ride as you go through the Flemington industrial estate and past the large pie in the sky in the showgrounds. Remember to validate and that you need to pre-book tickets during cup week as there are no tickets for sale on the gate.

It always pays to know where the sturdy, spacious permanent toilet blocks are. If you go out the back of the course, towards the main car park, past the book makers ring, just near the Flemington Heritage centre there is a major, solid, permanent and very under utilised toilet blocks. No lines ladies !


Do's and Don'ts of Cup Week

DO get your photo taken with the Bart statue
We are pretty sure, that if you read the fine print on your entry ticket, you will find that this is actually one of the compulsory Terms and Condition of entry. Wander past the Bart statue at any time during Cup Week and you will find madly grinning punters posing with Bart for a photo opportunity. Sometimes there is even a queue. If the VRC ever fell on hard times all they would have to do is charge a $1 a photo and they would be raking it in. Statue Bart photos are pride of place on thousands of mobile phones and Facebook photo albums around Australia. Like any cool fad, this craze has swept the internet and is known as BARTING.

If you have a photo with Statue Bart (and we reckon pretty much everyone does) and want to share it, post it on our facebook page.

DON'T do the form on the train on the way to Flemington
Picking a winner during Cup Week is hard enough. The bookmakers don’t actually pay any extra for finding a winner from a complex analysis of weights, times and ratings undertaken in a crowded train carriage, whilst responding to SMSes from various friends co-ordinating meeting times and pretending to make polite conversation with people next to you. Nothing extra at all.

DON’T place your phone bets on the train on the way to the races.
Almost certainly an awkward silence is going to mysteriously fall over the train the instant you try to discretely whisper your TAB account no and password. But apart from this fact, there really is no need for the rest of Melbourne to know what a massive wuss bettor you are, desperately trying to have $5 each way on the even money favourite in the next.

DO wear underwear
This is a hint especially for the females, and comes directly from her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth, who is currently in Australia and will be doing random spot underwear checks at the gate this year. This follows on from recent years where they have had to implement strict dress standards rules for what race goers can wear at Royal Ascot to stop short skirts, protruding bellies and streaky fake tan.

DO check which way your train runs through the city loop
As wonderful, marvellous and liveable that Melbourne is, you really don’t want to do multiple laps of the loop to get to the racecourse train.

DO remove the dry cleaning tag from the good suit
You need more explanation on this one?

DO charge your mobile phone and camera
It’s a busy day ahead of SMSing back and forward, down loading hot tips from punting, parody, profit websites, and trying to arrange to meet up with people. Plus you never know when you might want to get your photo taken with that guy that almost made the top ten on MasterChef. So you want to be fully charged. Apparently pre-2000 you had to find your friends with some sort of semaphore flag signalling system, or so we are informed.

DO check the circumference of your extravagant headwear.
Wing span is the key term here. Just for the safety of the eye balls of other commuters.

DO get organised early
A day at the races is expensive, get up, get going , get to Flemington and make the most of it.

DO mark your spot carefully
Those lawns are big and crowded and although you may think you have a good idea of where home base was, so did many early explorers who are now remembered by memorial statues and commemorative fountains.


Additional Notes

No alcohol
If you travel by train you cannot take alcohol in through the station gates. If you do have a large esky that you have carefully packed to the rim with grog and now find that you cannot take it in through the station gates, it is physically impossible to quickly drink its contents in ten minutes on the station and then proceed on with the day as planned . Don’t even try. Many have tried, all have failed.

Sloping lawns
It may not be a big deal to some, but the lawns actually slope downwards so this means you can actually see OVER the top of the rails and get a much better view of the races than some other racecourses. Oh , look – a racehorse !

The members
Flemington is all about the members, class, style and prestige. The upper levels of the new members stand, with grand views over the course and the straight are probably worth the additional money. The view is utterly spectacular. We do have to say though that the fights in the public are much better. The most action you see in the members is the angry flapping of a handkerchief.

The last train
Always check what time the last train in and out of Flemington is. These details are normally available on the VRC website for each race day. Anthropologically speaking it is worthwhile just the once catching the very last train from Flemington on a major race day. Just don’t do it sober.

Racehorse bars
Listen to the public destroy the names of racing finest. “Hey mate, meet you at the Bernie Bar in ten minutes” That would the be BERNBOROUGH bar, winner of 15 consecutive races including the Newmarket and the Doomben Cup.

Regular punters
Few and far between. Pity the poor soul trying to bet in Doomben.

Leave Early
It is actually worth considering leaving before the last race. Whilst the influx is spread out over the day, even with two train stations running at full capacity the trains are packed for a solid two hours after the last. Guess it really depends how comfortable you feel about cuddling up nice and close with the other race goers on the way home.

Bet Give Aways
The Big Six is such a crap bet there will almost certainly be some sort of TAB promotion begging you to have a try with a few dollars thrown in for free.

Real racing coverage
On-course you can see the on-course race coverage in a clear and consistent manner . None of these highly entertaining but visual useless free to air TV angles from low to the ground, or through the fence, or from the moving car.

Sweaty Seconds
There is no greater pride for a horse to be covered in the winning blanket for the feature race of the day. The runner up though just hopes that his jockey does not fire in a successful protest cause there is nothing worse than sweaty seconds.

Melbourne Cup Walk of Fame
Flemington does a great job of recognising the long history associated with the racecourse. If you are coming in from the car park, walk through the covered Walk of Fame, just like the Hollywood stars, but they are all Cup winners. It is also great for playing an impromptu game of Melbourne Cup Winner hopscotch on the way home.

Racecourse Tours
For a small fee you can do a race course tour, which will take you around the course, the stables and the mounting yard. Little hint - the tour hits the mounting yard just after the horses have left for the next race, so time your tour for the Melbourne Cup and stride through the mounting yard like an person of much importance.

Occupy Flemington
Following on from the Occupy Melbourne movement, watch out for the Occupy Flemington movement. Here a group a well heeled socialites and celebreties are going to refuse to leave their lavish marquee until at least all the photo opportunities are gone, and maybe even as long as it takes for the free alcohol to run out. Chant after us "We are the one percent"...

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