The Lexus Melbourne Cup & the Rise of Wealth in Asia
More than ever, Australia is recognising its place in Asia—geographically, economically and culturally. And while ties to the region have never been stronger or growing at such a pace, Asia has played a substantial role in the development of the young nation since its inception.
During the 1970s and ‘80s more than 120,000 refugees from Asia migrated to Australia, bringing further diversity to the migrant nation.
Today, seven of Australia’s top 10 trading partners are in Asia or Oceania, with China and Japan making up the quinella—to borrow a racing term that describes the first two past the post—at the top of the table. The Republic of Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Thailand and Malaysia all feature.
Culturally, the friendships between the citizens of the regional nations have been cemented through tourism, business and education.
The racing industry is no different.
Racing links between Australia and China date back at least as far as 1862 when one of Australia’s leading racehorses, Exeter, was purchased for 100 pounds by new owners in Shanghai and exported to race in China, where it would win more than 100 times its purchase price in prize money. Exeter was originally leased and trained by Etienne de Mestre alongside the great Archer, winner of the first two Melbourne Cups in 1861 and 1862.
And like other industry sectors, Australian racing—led by the Victoria Racing Club—is recognising the growth opportunities within the region.
The world’s most vibrant racing event
The Lexus Melbourne Cup is more cultural institution than sporting event in Australia. It holds a unique place in Australian history, earning its reputation as the race that stops a nation because, quite literally, almost all Australians stop to watch or listen to the race. Remarkably, Emirates Melbourne Cup Day is even a public holiday in its home city while the day before the race the city streets are closed to parade the race’s trainers and jockeys.
While still iconically Australian, the Lexus Melbourne Cup has cemented its reputation as one of the world’s most prized sporting events, and increasingly so throughout Asia.
The Melbourne Cup Carnival is undoubtedly one of the world’s most renowned and successful horse racing events, attracting more than 325,000 racegoers to Flemington over four days each year.
The Lexus Melbourne Cup, a 3200m Group 1 staying race, is the richest prize in Australian sport, the world’s richest handicap race and the world’s richest 3200m race. Unsurprisingly it draws competitors from across the globe with the annual invasion of northern hemisphere-trained stayers making it a truly international event.
While the undisputed heroes of the Melbourne Cup Carnival are the stars of the turf, the accompanying fashion frenzy that seizes Melbourne in spring is truly spectacular. Men and woman alike relish the opportunity to dress in their finest race wear and head to Flemington as the racecourse becomes the place to see and be seen.
The Flemington Birdcage has evolved from a humble car park to arguably the world’s most lavish temporary facility for corporate guests and the 30,000 plus members of the world’s largest racing club.
Each spring, a mini-metropolis is erected in the Birdcage with VRC sponsors including Emirates, Myer, James Boag, Lexus, Lavazza, G.H. Mumm, Schweppes and Johnny Walker amongst the companies creating remarkable bespoke temporary buildings offering unparalleled levels of sophistication, theming, design, catering and entertainment, which have become a hallmark of the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
Each year, marquee guest lists include international stars, local household names and captains of industry, with the invitations the most sought-after in town.
Speculation begins months out from Carnival with media vying to announce the A-lister guests, celebrity chefs providing the menus, celebrity designers penning the structures, and international acts entertaining.
Over the years some of the world’s most fashionable people have graced Flemington including Princess Diana, Nicole Kidman, Sarah-Jessica Parker, Elizabeth Hurley, Kim Cattrall, Jerry Hall, Stevie Nicks, Eva Longoria, Chloe Sevigny, Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, Dita Von Teese, Kate Upton and Coco Rocha.
However, it was Jean Shrimpton’s appearance in 1965 that caused the greatest stir. The Melbourne Cup Carnival’s most famous fashion spectacle took place when the English model attended Victoria Derby Day wearing a one-piece shift four inches above the knee with no hat, gloves or stockings. Despite causing outrage among fashion traditionalists, Shrimpton instantly turned the world fashion spotlight on Flemington and it has remained there ever since.
In 1962, the VRC Committee introduced a competition designed to ‘woo more women to the races’ during the Carnival. Today, Myer Fashions on the Field at Flemington is not just an institution of the Melbourne Cup Carnival; it has established its place as Australia’s largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event. Myer Fashions on the Field—a Flemington icon that has been replicated the world over—is showing no sign of losing relevance after more than 50 years.
Each year women (and more recently men) with a passion for fashion vie for a lavish prize pool, worth more than A$400,000, and a place in the social pages.
The only tougher competition is on the racetrack, where last year the success of Germany’s Protectionist marked yet another chapter in the incredible internationalisation of the race.
“Our days in Australia and the win of the Lexus Melbourne Cup are not comparable with any other international racing event we’ve experienced before,” trainer Andreas Wohler said after the win.
“The way they celebrate this amazing race is unique and something I haven’t seen anywhere worldwide.
“It was a great pleasure for all of us to be a part of this magnificent experience.”
The German victory will ignite greater interest in the race in that part of the world, as winners from Ireland, Japan and France have in the past.
Prior to the COVID state-wide lockdowns, and for most years the four-day Melbourne Cup Carnival attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Melbourne.
VRC Chairman Neil Wilson said the Melbourne Cup Carnival’s record of positive impacts to the state is peerless.
In a typical year, more than A$28 million is spent by Carnival visitors on commercial accommodation in Victoria representing over 186,000 bed-nights.
In previous years, attendees spent annually over A$31.4 million on fashion items specifically to wear to Flemington on over 375,000 individual fashion items including 75,000 hats and fascinators, 61,000 dresses, 59,000 pairs of shoes, 30,000 handbags, 17,000 shirts and 15,000 suits.
“While a racing event at its core, the Melbourne Cup Carnival celebrates all that Melbourne does best: world-class sport, fashion, entertainment, food and wine, culture and commerce,” Mr Wilson said.
Looking to Asia
Like many businesses, the VRC has turned its attention to its Asian neighbours for growth.
Traditional racing markets, such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan naturally engage with the Carnival, which is often described as the world’s best racing event. Strategic alliances with race clubs in those markets have been fostered to harness that interest to drive wagering and attendance.
China, however, remains the untapped opportunity, but one the VRC is working on.
Prior to the lockdown of international travel, the VRC had visited China three times in previous years taking part in Victorian Government trade missions, hosting VIP events and building strategic partnerships.
Back in Australia, the strategy takes in China-specific tourism trade shows, Corroboree Greater China and ATE, while a move to provide Mandarin translated collateral and supporting information for Mandarin speaking attendees will tailor the experience on-course at Flemington.
The VRC joined the Chinese social networking platform Weibo in 2014 to increase awareness of the Melbourne Cup Carnival in the Chinese community in Australia and around the world.
For the first time in 2014, the VRC partnered with The Asian Executive for its Melbourne Cup Eve Charity Ball, a successful association that is next scheduled to take place for November 2022 after a two year COVID-hiatus.
The recent history of the Lexus Melbourne Cup is characterised by a phenomenon of incredible internationalisation. And just like the rest of Australia, the ties linking the event to the world are increasingly reaching to Asia.
2021 Melbourne Cup Carnival Details