Olympia Valance, Stephanie Thornton and Michelle Payne at the 2018 Spring Racing Carnival Launch at Ormond Hall. (Racing Photos)
A star-studded launch party last night heralded the official start of the 2018 Spring Racing Carnival, as the greats of the racing industry came together in Melbourne to preview Victoria’s three-month racing showpiece which offers record prizemoney and celebrates 25 years of international competition.
The grandeur of Ormond Hall provided a fitting backdrop for the occasion, which was hosted by Hamish McLachlan and attended by many of the country’s most recognisable racing identities, including trainer Gai Waterhouse, Michelle Payne, and jockey Hugh Bowman, a central figure in Winx’s bid for equine immortality when she chases a record fourth Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) this October.
Bowman was joined on stage by Debbie Kepitis and Peter Tighe, part-owners of the world’s highest-rated horse, whose spring schedule could include a 6 October appearance in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington, where the soon-to-open Club Stand is set to enrich this year’s Carnival.
Other notable names at the event included Australia’s leading trainer Darren Weir, who will be well represented with multiple runners in this Saturday’s $1 million New Zealand Bloodstock Memsie Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield – the first of 21 Group 1 races held during the Spring Racing Carnival – and champion jockey Damien Oliver, who will be riding the Memsie Stakes favourite, Vega Magic.
Guests, including Racing Victoria (RV) chairman Brian Kruger and the Hon. Martin Pakula, Minister for Racing, were greeted on arrival by eight-time Group 1 winner Apache Cat and Might and Power, one of the few horses in history to win the Caulfield Cup, Melbourne Cup (both 1997) and Cox Plate (1998).
The Carnival’s most prized silverware was on display, while further glitz and glamour was provided by Australian actress Olympia Valance, part-owner of the Anthony Freedman-trained Carnival contender Mr Sneaky; model Lindy Rama-Ellis, who appeared in her role as Stella Artois Caulfield Cup Carnival Ambassador; and Ladbrokes Cox Plate Carnival Ambassador, Ashleigh Brewer.
Over $84 million in prizemoney and bonuses will be on offer across the Spring Racing Carnival which takes in 132 race meetings from Saturday’s Caulfield opening through to the Sportsbet Ballarat Cup (2200m) on Saturday, 24 November.
The three jewels in the Carnival’s crown will each carry record prizemoney with the Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington on 6 November up $1 million to $7.3 million; the Stella Artois Caulfield Cup (2400m) at Caulfield on 20 October up $2 million to $5 million and the Ladbrokes Cox Plate at The Valley on 27 October up $2 million to $5 million.
The move of Caulfield’s Group 1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) to a new timeslot on Saturday, 22 September means that Victoria will showcase 10 weekends of Group 1 racing during the Carnival for the first time.
The Spring Racing Carnival attracted over 686,000 people in 2017 – 22.7% of whom were interstate and overseas visitors – and generated $762 million for the Victorian economy with feature events stretching from Flemington to Manangatang.
In officially launching the event, Mr Kruger said: “We’re delighted to celebrate the arrival of the most exciting three months of the year – the Spring Racing Carnival - when the world’s best horses, trainers and jockeys converge on Victoria for Australia’s premier racing event.
“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.
“We are also delighted to offer record prizemoney and bonuses of over $84 million this Spring Racing Carnival with significant increases announced for our three marquee races – the Lexus Melbourne Cup, Stella Artois Caulfield Cup and Ladbrokes Cox Plate – along with each of the Carnival’s 27 Country Cups.
“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.
“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.
“I’m pleased to report that the first international horses entered quarantine in the UK last Thursday and that 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.”
With the AFL bye this weekend, it was also announced that all AFL and AFL Club members will receive free entry to Saturday’s opening meeting of the Spring Racing Carnival at Caulfield.