Melbourne, the epicenter of Australian horse racing, tends to get a lot of international attention in the autumn (springtime in Australia) as the great and good of the industry heads to Flemington Racecourse for the Melbourne Cup. But Australians really adore their racing, and the elite action continues across the country all throughout the year. That’s the case right now as we see this year’s Melbourne Autumn Racing Carnival is in full swing.
The Australian’s use of the term “carnival” is similar to the idea of a festival in the USA and UK, but it’s much broader, not concentrated on an individual meeting like the Kentucky Derby Festival or Royal Ascot. In a sense, it can be equated to the term “season” (in the sports sense), covering a period of a few months and featuring separate but associated events. According to Pro Group Racing, one of the leading resources for horse racing news and betting info in Australia, over 500 Group races take place in the country each year. And a significant portion of those elite events take place in the coming weeks.
Flemington Racecourse ready to host blue-ribband events
Nonetheless, the Melbourne Autumn Racing Carnival runs from January to April. And as the heat of the Australian summer begins to wane somewhat, the action on the track heats up. There’s a bunch of great races upcoming on the calendar, not least what is commonly known as Super Saturday at Flemington Racecourse. The home of the Melbourne Cup, Flemington is considered the home of racing in the state of Victoria, and Australia generally.
Before we reach Super Saturday, however, there’s plenty to catch the eye in February. One of the biggest events on the calendar is Black Caviar Lightning Stakes day at Flemington on February 19th, which hosts the Group 1 Lightning Stakes, a race now named after the legendary mare Black Caviar, who went 25 races unbeaten, including landing a record 15 Group 1 wins. As the name suggests, the race Black Caviar Lightning Stakes is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it race, with the horses usually finishing the 1,000m (approx. 5 furlongs) sprint in less than a minute.
The action moves to Caulfied Racecourse (another brilliant venue located just outside Melbourne) on February 26th for Blue Diamond Stakes Day, featuring three of the most prestigious Group 1 races: The Blue Diamond Oakleigh Plate and Futurity Stakes. A week later, it’s back to Flemington for the Australian Guineas.
The aforementioned Super Saturday comes on March 12th, with a bumper race day featuring the Group 1 Australian Cup and Newmarket Handicap, as well as some brilliant Group 2 contests like Kewney Stakes. As with other global blue-chip races, there’s an entire industry that has built up around Super Saturday with entertainment and other social events. In short, it’s not just a sporting event – it’s a cultural one, too.
All-Star Mile has quickly become a fan favorite
March 19th sees the All-Star Mile also at Flemington. While it has only had a short history (inaugurated in 2019), it has quickly caught the attention of Australians due to the bulk of the runners being chosen by public vote. That, coupled with the fact there’s an A$5 million purse, ensures the best runners in the country are put forward for the race, means the All-Star Mile is now a must-see event in the Australian racing calendar.
By April, the action traditionally moves on to New South Wales for the conclusion of the neighboring state’s own autumn carnival. But there’s still time for a final act with Easter Cup Day at Caulfield Racecourse, effectively drawing the Melbourne Autumn Carnival to a close.
Above, we have just given you a bit of an insight into the glorious feast of racing that takes place in Melbourne in the first few months of the year. But it is only a small cross-section of the action on offer for Australians, who tend to see a day at the track as an excuse for a party. It feels like a carnival in every sense of the word.