With the footy finals on the horizon there is always the scent of spring in the air – but it's not just the AFL that is looking to capture the public interest over the next couple of months.
September marks the start of Melbourne's spring racing carnival, which gets under way this weekend with the first group 1 race of the new season. The $1 million Memsie Stakes boasts a top-quality field of proven gallopers headed by Happy Clapper, Vega Magic, Hartnell and Black Heart Bart.
This year's carnival, which will officially conclude in late November with the running of the Ballarat Cup, boasts record prizemoney.
But it is also the 25th anniversary of one of the most significant events in Australia's recent racing history – the first time an overseas horse triumphed in the nation's greatest race, the Melbourne Cup.
It was in November 1993 that the Dermot Weld-trained, Mick Kinane-ridden Vintage Crop came through the gloom of a wet Flemington to triumph in the Cup, forever etching those three names in the folklore of Australian racing.
An even greater equine hero in the shape of peerless mare Winx will try to create more history in Melbourne in late October when she attempts to become the first horse to win four Cox Plates.
The spring schedule for Winx, with Hugh Bowman in the saddle, could also include an October 6 appearance in the Seppelt Wines Turnbull Stakes (2000 metres) at Flemington.
There will be 21 group 1 races contested over the next couple of months in Melbourne, while prizemoney and bonuses of more than $84 million will be up for grabs. There will be 132 race meetings in town and in the country before the Ballarat finale on November 24.
The three majors – the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup – will carry record prizemoney.
The Melbourne Cup, staged over the Flemington 3200-metre track, has been given a stakemoney hike of $1 million and is now worth $7.3 million.
The Caulfield Cup (2400 metres) at Caulfield on October 20 is up $2 million to $5 million, while the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on October 27 also rises by $2 million to $5 million.
The decision to shift the group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400 metres) to a new timeslot on September 22 means that Victoria will showcase 10 weekends of group 1 racing during the carnival for the first time.
According to Racing Victoria, the carnival attracted more than 686,000 people in 2017 – 22.7 per cent of whom were interstate or overseas visitors – and generated $762 million for the Victorian economy.
Not all of the feature events are in town: the wide-ranging program of country cups events means places as diverse as Bendigo and Manangatang all gain a sporting and economic benefit when they stage their major race days.
RV chairman Brian Kruger said: “From elite racing, to glamorous fashion and great entertainment – there’s something for everyone to enjoy this spring racing carnival, and all of our racing clubs are already working tirelessly to deliver a wonderful trackside experience.
“Whilst the spotlight has traditionally shone brightest in October and November, we’re again making a concerted effort to showcase elite racing throughout September, starting with the $1 million Memsie Stakes at Caulfield this Saturday.
“There is no bigger name in Australian sport at present than Winx, and we wait with tremendous anticipation and excitement for her arrival in Victoria for a tilt at a record fourth Cox Plate and what will be one of the great moments in racing history,” he said.
“This year also marks an important milestone in the history of the spring racing carnival, as we celebrate 25 years of international competition. Since Dermot Weld and Vintage Crop blazed a trail in the 1993 Melbourne Cup, we’ve welcomed nearly 230 internationally-trained horses to our Carnival – with 31 of those tasting success.”
Kruger said the first of the international raiders entered quarantine in Britain last Thursday. "We’re again expecting a huge contingent of European and Asian horses to target races right across Victoria this spring and in doing so bring with them the eyes of the racing world,” he said.
With the AFL bye this weekend, all AFL and AFL Club members will receive free entry to Saturday’s carnival-opening Caulfield card.
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