Saturday, October 21, 2017
Springtime in Melbourne means horse racing season. And by horse racing season, I mean men in ties and jackets and ladies in colorful dresses with doflickys on their heads that look like something straight out of Dr. Seuss’ Whoville. A group of friends invited me and Anthony for a day at the Caulfield Cup Spring Carnival on Saturday, October 21 and when I originally signed up, I had no idea what kind of afternoon I was in for.
Planning my outfit was an adventure in itself. Before flying back to Melbourne, Anthony and our friend Jo encouraged me to pack my “yellow wedding dress” from home and a comfortable pair of heels. But my outfit was incomplete without a thingamabob for my head. Unlike the oversized sun hats that women wear to the Kentucky Derby, the ladies of Melbourne wear fascinators. What’s a fascinator, you ask? Pretty much think of a massive decorative headband or small hat-like thing pinned in place like a hair clip. They come in all shapes and sizes and are traditionally very expensive. Anthony and I had a quick browse through the local department store Meyer, and the first fascinator I saw was of a fancy headband with a three scoop ice cream cone attached on the right side. I started laughing out loud until I saw the $1200 price tag and quickly made a run out of the designer section. When I was brave enough to return shopping in my free time, the Meyer sales women had quite the field day playing dress up with me suggesting this accessory and that clutch. It pretty much made me feel like I was getting ready to attend some sort of adult prom and definitely took me a while to catch on to the fact that fashion is one of the biggest components of race day.
Even though the first race didn’t start until 12:15pm, we met up with Jo outside the main gates shortly after 10am. Since we had general admission tickets and a party of 20+ friends, we wanted to secure a good spot on the lawn. People take this responsibility very seriously and literally run into the grounds as soon as they are allowed in. In fact, Jo was on the local news last year for Melbourne Cup Day, the largest of the race days, because she was one of the first eager guests inside the gates. Also note that Melbourne Cup is such a large event that the first Tuesday of November is a public holiday in the state of Victoria. That girl definitely knows what she’s doing though because she was quick to secure our group two large picnic tables under an umbrella.
The weather unfortunately did not cooperate as it was overcast, trying to rain and very chilly all day long. It was a huge disappointment considering it was pushing 25°C (around 80°F) with beautiful sunshine just a few days prior. Luck for us though, the party still went on. I was in a bit of sensory overload with the amount of things to see and do within the racecourse; food trucks, outdoor bars aplenty, bookies (the men who accept your bets) with large white bags over their shoulders, friends picnicking on cozy blankets, upscale restaurants with pokie (slot) machines inside, and a fashion show alongside the race track. It was easy now to understand why a friend of mine once told me, “I’ve been to the horse races before… never saw a horse.”
After I settled in with my red wine, (the Carlton Draught pints were too cold for me to hold, so I quickly switched to shiraz) I was able to properly focus my attention towards the actual horses somewhere around race number two. This is when I mentally started placing bets on horses with my favorite names. After I fictitiously won on Pinot (it was only fitting because of my current bevy of choice) and something called Snitty Kitty, I jokingly encouraged our friend Gemma to bet real Australian money on a horse named Burning Front. We made a bet between ourselves that if she won money off of Burning Front, Anthony and I would wager on Boom Time in the following race. Ever since I was about 5 years old, my horse race M.O. has always been to pick the horse with the best name. I know absolutely nothing about betting on a horse. Burning Front actually placed and Gemma won a small bit of money.
It was now Boom Time. The start of the course was furthest away from us, finishing just in front and to the right of where we were sitting. When the racers came into better view, Anthony and I stood up on our picnic table bench and he yelled and cheered more enthusiastically than I ever expected him to. “Come on BOOM TIME!” Can you believe that horse didn’t just place, but came in first place?! I didn’t realize until the next day how newsworthy this win was. Not only did Boom Time win the Caulfield Cup in a monumental upset, but he will now be racing in the Melbourne Cup. The odds were 50:1. I don’t gamble, but apparently those are not very good odds. Those odds mean that for every $1 you bet, you won $50. Needless to say, Anthony did very well off of the $5 bet I made him place on Boom Time.
Jo and the rest of our friends showed me a great time just horsing around at my first Melbourne race, and the extra spending cash Anthony won didn’t hurt either! I’m looking forward to playing dress up with my pretty new fascinator again and fingers crossed the weather will hold out for us the next (BOOM) time.