Derby Day at Flemington – the biggest day on the Australian horse racing calendar

| October 29, 2021

Derby Day at Flemington is indisputably Australia’s biggest day of horse racing. It features no less than 4 Group One races on the 9-race card, all of which carry Group status. The races go a long way to deciding the year’s top performers in different categories. Much is at stake not only in terms of horse of the year honours but also from a future breeding perspective. Horses that succeed on Derby Day become Australia’s most important breeding stock.

Aside from the elite horse racing, Derby Day is traditionally the finest race day on the Australian calendar for patrons. Fashions and frivolity are the order of the day with the who’s who of celebrities and social influencers. No single day on the Australian sporting calendar is more important for fashion and prestige than Derby Day at Flemington. Ladies spend many months preparing for Derby Day, most have been thinking about their outfits since the previous year. Designers and stylists make or break their careers on what they can produce for the ladies on Derby Day. The males are equally resplendent in their finest of morning suits. In the members enclosure, gentlemen adorn their traditional top hat and tails, seemingly indifferent to the heat of the day.

The weather, typical of Spring in Melbourne, can play havoc on the crowd. It can change several times during the day. One must be prepared for searing heat, freezing temperatures, torrential rain and hail, all in the one afternoon! A nightmare for the fashion conscious, it is all part of this great day. Pay as much attention to the weather forecasts as you do to the form guide.

Over 100,000 eager racegoers attend Derby Day at Flemington. They traditionally arrive by all types of transport, including train, car, boat and helicopter! Some of the patrons prefer to spend the entire day in the car park, enjoying chicken and champagne, and exchanging tips and betting strategies. Others take a picnic blanket inside the course to claim their spot on the famous Flemington lawns. Ladies quickly find out that heels and lawn do not mix but nothing can stop the enjoyment of the day. Dressed immaculately early, many find the champagne a little too much and are seen in tatters by the time the last race is run.

Strangely, raceday crowds rarely seem to have organized their way home, and either resign to never going home again or are seen ambling aimlessly in groups through the North Melbourne and Flemington suburbs, hoping that a taxi or uber will somehow take pity. This is all part of the great Derby Day experience.

Aside from the truly memorable experience for crowds, the racing is second to none. In all categories, Derby Day can produce the premier contests of the season. Who will forget the spectacular races of 2020 Derby Day. The unforgettable dominant display by September Run in the Coolmore Stud Stakes and Johnny Get Angry’s superb win in the Derby. Every race is deserving of its own dedicated raceday, and the fans are treated to an epic race, one after the other. In Australian sport, there really is no other day that rivals Derby Day for the consistent programming of top class events. Those who cannot attend, gather around television sets in their lounge rooms for a most memorable and spectacular day of entertainment.

Derby Day goes to the spiritual fabric of Australian culture. The racecourse sits adjacent to the meandering Maribyrnong River which not only delivers many racegoers by boat, but also the water that flows down from thoroughbred country, Mount Macedon, home of many champions of years gone past. Cup winners Efficient, Almandin, Ethereal, Green Moon and Rekindling hail from the origins of the river that flows from the mountain to the bay. The Maribyrnong River is indelibly linked in Flemington history and has played havoc by flooding the course on several occasions. In May 1974, the racecourse was under 6 feet of water caused by the flooding, leaving mud and silt a foot deep after the water had subsided. It was a mercurial effort to restore the track in time for Haymaker to win the Derby in November for trainer Colin Hayes.

The 2021 Victoria Derby is a terrific contest. Gunstock holds favouritism but several other high quality 3YO’s are given chances. For many, it’s a big step to 2500m at Flemington so horses with abundant reserves of stamina will be the ones fighting out the finish. Whoever wins the Derby, there is no doubt that this new generation of 3YO’s will form the next wave of champions to grace the Australian turf.

Category: Racing

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