Thousands of punters have well and truly let their hair down after being locked up for months as they flocked to Melbourne’s Derby Day and Sydney’s Golden Eagle for a day of racing.
The festivities on Saturday marked one of the first celebrations for many who had spent countless weeks confined to their homes due to the Covid-19 pandemic ripping through both NSW and Victoria.
Glamorous punters matched fascinators with face masks at Flemington Racecourse, with a capped Covid-safe crowd of 5,500 spectators in Victoria to mark the start of the four-day Melbourne Cup carnival.
In Sydney, there was plenty of buzz surrounding the Golden Eagle, where up to 10,000 double-vaccinated spectators flocked to Rosehill Gardens in Sydney’s west.
Exclusively set aside for four-year-old horses, the Golden Eagle is Australia’s third richest race, with the event boasting a total prize pool of $7.5 million.
Those attending the highly anticipated events dressed to impress with ladies bringing out their best outfits, while one man was bizarrely seen donning a gold suit.
The celebrations are expected to last well into the night with many racegoers keen to take advantage of their newfound freedoms.
And they’re off! Those at Sydney’s Golden Eagle race day dressed to impress with the festivities expected to last well into the night
Smile for the camera: Punters are seen heading out of Sydney’s Rosehill racecourse after a big day of racing
Sore feet? One woman chose to take her shoes off after a long day in high heels
A pair of well dressed ladies smile as they leave a day of racing in Sydney
One man was seen with a police officer as Melbourne’s Derby Day started to wrap up
Dressed to impress: These racegoers are among 10,000 double-vaccinated spectators packing into Rosehill Gardens in Sydney’s west
Winner! Mates scream for joy after a day of cheering on the horses at Melbourne’s Derby Day
The chilly Melbourne weather wasn’t enough to deter racing fans from the Derby Day
Some punters enjoyed a break from the action at Victoria’s Derby Day on Saturday
All loved up! A couple are seen enjoying an intimate moment between races at Melbourne’s Derby Day
Cheers! A group of Sydneysiders are seen celebrating a day at the races for the Golden Eagle on Saturday
These punters arrived at Rosehill ready for some racing action on a perfect Saturday afternoon in Sydney
This couple looked like they were in the mood to party at Rosehill Gardens in Sydney’s west on Saturday
Strike a pose: Racegoers turned out in their best outfits for the events on Saturday
Trapeze artists were seen at Melbourne’s Derby Day event on Saturday, impressing many who turned out to the racecourse
Battle of the states: Thousands of glammed-up punters have flocked to Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens for the Golden Eagle (above) and Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse for Derby Day
As the afternoon progressed at Rosehill, the crowd swelled in number, with the crowd at least 10,000 in Sydney
5500 double-jabbed spectators are set to walk through the gates at Flemington for Derby Day (pictured, racing fans pose for a photo upon entry on Saturday in Melbourne)
Racing fans were made to wear masks while queuing up in Melbourne, but they were quickly taken off when punters made their way into Flemington (above)
Glamorous race-goers were early through the gates ahead of the Golden Eagle in Sydney on Saturday afternoon
Dressed to the nines: As always, the style stakes trackside were impressive (pictured, three ladies at Rosehill Gardens in Sydney’s west)
Going for gold: The dress sense of some patrons left a little to be desired at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday ahead of the Golden Eagle
Melbourne’s Derby was won by Japanese stallion Hitotsu, with the first prize scoring an eye-watering $2million.
Meanwhile, in Sydney the Golden Eagle was taken out by I’m Thunderstruck, who managed to just pip Count De Rupee at the end.
Racing hasn’t missed a beat during the pandemic, but there have been close calls that could have easily shut down the sport when its audience is traditionally at its highest.
As one of Australia’s best jockeys found out the hard way, protocol breaches have been dealt with in a swift and harsh manner.
Victoria’s champion rider Jamie Kah was banned for the spring carnival and beyond for her part in a Covid-19 breach that also led to the suspension of four other jockeys.
NSW authorities have also handed out punishment to offending trainers and jockeys.
Kick your heels up! The Golden Eagle brought a day of fun for the 10,000 in the crowd
One woman dressed in a blue two piece kicks her heels up as she enjoys a day at the Golden Eagle
All smiles! A group of ladies are seen heading out of Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens with celebrations set to kick into the night
Thousands poured into Rosehill Gardens for the Golden Eagle on Saturday
A pair of mates are seen in Sydney on Saturday to cheer on the horses at the Golden Eagle
Punters made their way into Rosehill in Sydney’s west early on Saturday excited for a day of races
All dressed up! Sydneysiders brought out their best outfits for a day of racing
The Golden Eagle was only open to those who have received both jabs with a cap of 10,000 people
Having a laugh! Many were just excited to be able to dress up and go out having spent months in lockdown, (pictured in Sydney)
Say cheese! A group of mates celebrate together at the Golden Eagle
Time out: Some punters at the Golden Eagle needed to take a break after a lengthy day at the races
The Golden Eagle is Australia’s third richest race with a total prize pool of $7.5million
A group of friends are seen celebrating with a glass of champagne at the Golden Eagle racing day
Some racing fans are seen taking a break from the action at Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens Racecourse on Saturday
Cheers to freedom! The champagne was flowing as many kicked up their heels at racing events around Australia
Thousands gathered together to cheer on the horses at the Golden Eagle on Saturday
While the ladies donned their best dresses, the men also strapped on their best suits for a day of racing
Punters were reminded to socially distance as Covid-19 marshalls kept a watchful eye at the Golden Eagle race day
The crowd picked up as more punters flocked into Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens
A group of friends are seen celebrating with a glass of champagne at the Derby Day in Melbourne
Melbourne’s Derby was won by Japanese stallion Hitotsu, with the first prize scoring an eye-watering $2million
But as racing is learning to live with Covid-19, there is also an industry acceptance it can no longer tolerate animal welfare issues on the same level it once did.
Melbourne Cup deaths have left a stain on Australia’s greatest race, leading to a Racing Victoria review after the demise of Irish horse Anthony Van Dyck in 2020.
The review made 44 recommendations of which 41 have been adopted, including mandatory CT scans for the 60 horses left chasing Melbourne Cup glory after the latest acceptance stage.
Horses have to be scanned no later than five days before the Cup and the process will complement independent veterinary analysis in the countdown to the $8 million race.
It has come at a cost to the race’s international representation, with overseas entries well down.
There were plenty of glamorous punters who put on their best dresses before heading to Rosehill Gardens on Saturday
Racing enthusiasts of all ages are trackside at Rosehill in Sydney’s west ahead of the Golden Eagle race this afternoon
With 10,000 fans expected, it was a busy day at the bar at Rosehill ahead of the staging of the Golden Eagle in Sydney
This woman was in a euphoric mood, giving up a peace sign while the man next to her looked stylish in boat shoes
This woman looked excited soon after making her way through the gates at Rosehill Gardens
Champion jockey Nash Rawiller (centre) had a good start to the day, saluting on board Katalin at Rosehill on Saturday
But racing fans such as Victoria’s sport minister Martin Pakula say it is a small price to pay.
‘There are lots and lots of people who for 364 days of the year don’t watch racing but the one race they watch is the Melbourne Cup,’ he told industry-backed network Racing.com.
‘Anything that happens in the Melbourne Cup is going to be absolutely magnified.
‘So for those who are badly motivated towards racing, it’s magnetic. It gives them an example of why the industry should lose its social licence.
‘For those of us who are custodians of the industry … we’ve got to ensure the Melbourne Cup is viewed in the best light.’
Pakula is convinced the beefed up protocols create a win-win for the Cup: more Australian-trained horses getting a start and additional confidence surrounding the well-being of the internationals.
‘If you’ve got greater assurance that the horses coming out from the UK and Ireland and elsewhere are sound and they’re less likely to break down, that’s got to be a good thing for the Cup,’ he said.
‘We’ve had a particular problem with international runners in the Melbourne Cup and I think RV were absolutely right to want to do something about that.’
The Melbourne Cup is the centrepiece of the Flemington carnival and while it has always been a race that has stopped a nation, this year it will be one where an industry will hold its breath.
Punters were seen enjoying a few beers trackside soon after the gates opened at Flemington on Saturday
Horse racing enthusiasts looked smart as they patiently waited to enter the Covid-capped Flemington Racecourse
Punters were seen eagerly making their way through the gates on Saturday morning at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne
These two ladies were happy to pose for a photo as they enjoyed a drink at Derby Day in Victoria on Saturday
Derby Day at Flemington marks the start of the Melbourne Cup carnival, with the race that stops a nation on Tuesday
In a sign of modern-day times, a Covid check-in is required for punters at Flemington Racecourse for Derby Day
FIVE HORSES TO CLOSELY FOLLOW DURING THE 2021 SPRING CARNIVAL:
After an inauspicious start to his racing career, Incentivise is suddenly the hottest property in Australian racing. So much so, he will be chasing a ninth successive win when goes to the barrier as the horse to beat in the Caulfield Cup. He is also favourite to win the Melbourne Cup but is no certainty to continue his spring beyond Caulfield.
Hails from the stable operated by global racing powerhouse Godolphin and is all quality, winning five times from 10 starts with the promise of more to come before starting what should be a lucrative career at stud. The colt made light work of a difficult draw to win the Caulfield Guineas and, with Craig Williams riding, is all set to give his older rivals a run for their money in the WS Cox Plate.
A Group One winner at his most recent appearance in Melbourne but remains largely untapped as a four-year-old who has raced eight times for five wins. Rated most unlucky when beaten into a minor placing in the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes and atoned to win the Toorak Handicap. He has the $7.5 million Golden Eagle at Rosehill on October 30 as his primary spring target.
A New Zealand-bred three-year-old who has looked a Classic horse all the way through and is in terrific shape to run well in the $2 million Victoria Derby at Flemington. Worth noting the colt is among advanced acceptances for the WS Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup, an indication he is held in the highest regard by a stable that is going from strength to strength this spring.
The UK-trained stayer was supposed to make his Australian debut in the Caulfield Cup but a training setback put paid to those plans. Has since arrived safely in Melbourne, bringing with him the best European form on offer, including a last-start placing to the uber-talented Stradivarius at Group Two level in the Lonsdale Cup over 3300m at York. Champion jockey Craig Williams takes the ride in the Melbourne Cup.