At 3pm on the first Tuesday in November each year, all of Australia – as well as millions of horse racing enthusiasts around the world – stops to watch the Lexus Melbourne Cup.
The prestigious horse race sees the world’s fastest, blue-blooded thoroughbreds thunder 3,200m around Flemington Racecourse, all chasing the 18-karat gold winner’s trophy – and the now AUD$7.3m in total prize money that makes it the world’s richest handicapped race. On average, over 100,000 punters flock to the Cup every year.
Since 1861, some world-fêted equines – from the storied Phar Lap to three-time winner Makybe Diva – have galloped to Melbourne Cup victory. And while the race on 6 November may be the pinnacle of the Spring Racing Carnival, the festivities actually begin in late October, with the Caulfield Cup marking the first of the six big races of the season.
The Carnival has also become one of the county’s biggest fashion events. A bevy of Fashions on the Field awards are held at most of the race meets, while luxury brands such as Mumm and Lexus host exclusive parties inside lavish marquees set up beside the Flemington track months in advance, in an area the size of 65 tennis courts. You can expect to spy a who’s-who of celebrities, politicians, business leaders and reality television hopefuls prancing and preening in front of the flashing camera lights.
To get you ready for the ultimate day at the track, here are eight places in Melbourne to enjoy some appropriate shopping and dining during the event.
You can’t attend the races without a striking head piece, and this milliner’s exquisite creations are renowned for their rich, bold colours and textures. In fact, a collection of Rhodes’ hats is on permanent display at the National Gallery of Victoria, and his designs frequently grace the pages of Vogue and Marie Claire. Head to his South Melbourne atelier for ready-to-wear hats and made-to-order headpieces. You might just run into Rhodes devotees such as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kim Cattrall.
The Spring Racing events each have their own dress traditions. The Victoria Derby Day is all about sultry black and whites; the Caulfield Cup embraces flirty florals; while fashion at the Melbourne Cup should be like the race itself – big and bold. Australian designer Toni Maticevski has all the bases covered with his exceptionally tailored, sculptural gowns. He’s worked with the Australian Ballet and been exhibited at Bendigo Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria. Find his creations inside Myer Bourke Street department store in the Melbourne CBD.
Instagram should be your go-to when searching for the best hair and make-up wizards. Scroll through the social handles of Melbourne’s most social soap starlets, sport stars and dapper musicians and you’ll likely find them tagging their favourite salons and stylists. A favourite of former Neighbours star Natalie Bassingthwaighte and the make-up director for Myer department store, Jade Kisnorbo has perfected the art of the smoky eye, the Hollywood wave and luminous, dewy skin.
Fuel up with a hearty breakfast at this gorgeous CBD café. Housed inside a 1890 brick structure with lofty ceilings swathed in greenery. The dishes are the very definition of so-called “Melbourne brunch” – think homemade flatbread topped with pickled, spiced cauliflower, curry leaves and velvety scrambled eggs; or a wonderfully creamy yet crunchy kale salad with miso, avocado, almond hummus, a poached egg, puffed rice and toasted seeds. The coffee is on point, too.
Before you sidle down to the track, you’ll need to find a place for your pre-event Champagne. Opened just in time for the racing season is the new and much improved Hardimans Hotel. The sinuous, Art Deco building is located just a few blocks from the Flemington Racecourse and has unveiled a striking, curvaceous bar, plush leather banquettes and a brilliant outdoor deck to show off your outfit to passers-by.
6. Eau de Vie
What to do when the races are all finished, but the night is still young? As the partygoers stream out of Flemington, track down one of the city’s best craft cocktail dens. In true speakeasy fashion, Eau de Vie is tucked down one of Melbourne’s cobbled alleys and has no signage – look out for the large wooden door next to the hotel carpark on Malthouse Lane. Drinks are served with flair and a twist of theatre: a crowd favourite is the Noble Experiment, an icy martini finished with liquid nitrogen.
7. Flower Drum
Going strong for over 40 years now, this sumptuous space smack-bang in the middle of Chinatown is the city’s premier Cantonese restaurant. Enter through the ruby red door, travel up the poky lift and enter a serene world of succulent Peking duck, exquisite dim sum, wild barramundi “noodles” and baked jade tiger abalone. You’d be wise to call ahead to book a table.
Feet hurting? Suffering a little redness after a few too many hours watching the races in the sun? What better way to recuperate than a visit to the closest thermal hot springs to Melbourne, about an hour-and-a-half drive around Port Phillip Bay to the Mornington Peninsula. Book in for a traditional Indigenous-inspired Kodo massage, where therapists use native aromatic oils to soothe away aches and pains.
This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine