Geelong Cup 2012
Amber, Lisa and Stacey enjoy the atmosphere at the Geelong Cup. Photo: Jason South
You can learn a lot in the roped off areas marked 'VIP' – wine appreciation, how to pronounce Comme des Garçons correctly and how to stuff three arancini into your clutch purse without them splitting.
However, to be schooled in the game of life, one must venture into "general admission". That’s where reality 101 is conducted.
Standing in the sun all day with minimal coverage can make you look like a burned porterhouse rather than a Waterhouse.
Think The Princess Diaries meets Dangerous Minds meets Kath & Kim.
Ellie Potter and Jenny Howe enjoying the sun at Thoroughbred Park in Canberra for last year's Melbourne Cup event. Photo: Andrew Sheargold
Nowhere are these life lessons more ripe for the picking than at Spring Racing Carnival. That time of year when Australia has a signature scent, eau de hairspray, the chocolatey, buttery aroma of fake tan combined with the odd waft of stable stench and sparkling wine spilled on silk.
That bouquet is growing all the more pungeant as the race that stops a nation draws near.
Melbourne Cup is the one time of year there is more horsehair and busted shoes in the grandstands of the greens rather than on the track because ladies and gentlemen from all walks of life love the occasional flutter, fill of Champagne and the excitement of watching fillies on and off the course.
Inside The Birdcage may be hats, celebrity spotting and dresses which are the fashion equivalent of a 3x2 home in the ‘burbs - but what happens in the enclosures that aren't bankrolled by cashed-up conglomerates?
Cast your mind to Canberra, Perth, Geelong, Hobart, Kalgoorlie, Darwin and Broome. They all have their own burgeoning race rounds packed with their own individual social hierarchies and characters competing for a Fashions on the Field title and hoping for a lucky quinella on the race of the day.
"Racing attendance in Canberra has certainly been on the up and current ABS figures say that today about two million Australian’s attend a thoroughbred race meeting at least once per year, ranking it second only to AFL in terms of attendance," spokesperson for Canberra’s Thoroughbred Park Briony Young said.
"This has certainly been the case with the Canberra Racing Club over the past few years with a strong return customer base for Melbourne Cup and evidence to show that Melbourne Cup race day was well attended by once-a-year race goers.
"Obviously, our population pales into insignificance compared to Melbourne, but the latest crowd attendance figures for the Caulfield Cup were 37,000 and our own Black Opal attendance in 2012 [Canberra’s premier race meet in March] was 10,500."
Growing up in regional Australia allows one to start their GA "lay of the land" early. For example, when you’re a spritely, slightly excitable 18-year-old asked to accompany a lad to the Sunday Races in April, you will soon find that it is not appropriate to wear a fascinator to the "trots" - people will just be fascinated with you.
And a few pre-mixed cans (purchased with drink coupons) later, and you’ll feel like Mary Donaldson on her wedding day but look like the loser of Australian Princess.
When she’s not in Lycra, training for next year’s World Athletic Championships, 400m hurdler and Myer’s official Face of Canberra Racing, Brittney McGlone, said, regardless of what location or enclosure, racing tradition must be upheld.
“On beautiful sunny race days, don’t think that you can enter Fashions on the Field with a shoulderless dress - match it with a jacket if you are going on stage, otherwise save yourself the time and be a spectator. I hate to sound like a bore but it's racing tradition and you wouldn’t do it in Melbourne. And don’t forget, the hemline's around the knee and keep the nightclub outfits for the nightclubs,” she said.
Here are some tips from the equestrian school of hard knocks, aka race day general admission, as picked up by My Jennaration over the years:
• Some men feel denim is considered "race wear" – sidebar, guys: it is not. Your distressed acid wash stresses out a lot of old school traditional racing types.
• People tend to feel very sexy at the races, especially after a day of drinking in the sun and consuming only water crackers and gherkin dip. If the mood takes an amorous turn, for the sake of others and yourself head to the nearest cab rank not to the back of a corporate marquee or the stairwell of the member’s stand.
• Stubby holders can be fashioned into colourful, functional and fashion forward wrist candy.
• If you are sporting a sleeve tattoo and some calf ink (especially you, ladies) there is no need to accessorise. Your skin already has enough embellishment and Chinese proverbs to capture the imagination and attention of other race goers.
• Ladies, when in doubt (or pain) before leaving the house, change into a flat or trusty shoe. Regional racetracks and some GA areas usually have more red dirt than red carpet so the last thing you want is to be going barefoot on gravel.
• Gents, if you’re wearing a collar (which you should be), iron the shirt. The only thing that should be crinkled on race day are the Bookie's form guides.
• Sometimes, VIP areas can be a lot like that town in Footloose. Dancing is banned (or at least frowned upon), however in GA, it can be like a music festival, albeit with fewer denim cut-offs and deep-V T-shirts. If you want to fist pump along to David Guetta’s latest ditty in your floral frock, go right ahead.
• Check the forecast when considering a hairstyle. At the first sign of humidity or hail, put your tresses up as you’ll be out in the elements. The only thing that should be fly-away in close proximity to ponies is Bart Cummings’ eyebrows.
• Clip-in extensions are not to be confused with hair pieces.
• If the line for the portable toilets is longer than the combined opening day queues at Zara and Topshop, sweet talk a bouncer or learn the phrase ‘‘I’m with the Sheik’’. Squatting behind a limousine in the car park at the end of the day is fraught with flashing danger.
• Be mindful of the fabric of your dress or shirt. Standing in the sun all day with minimal coverage can make you look like a burned porterhouse rather than a Waterhouse.
With all this in mind, be sure to enjoy Melbourne Cup Day 2012 - wherever you find yourself, come next Tuesday.