My family has loved horses for generations. It all started with the original Titus, my great-great-great Grandfather, who was killed by a mob of townsfolk for loving other people’s horses much too much.
Many of my forbearers spent their lives fixing horse races across several continents and a few islands.
Now the men in the O’Reily clan couldn’t fix a broken tap if their collective lives depended on it and my personal knowledge of horse racing is breathtaking in both its shallowness and inaccuracy.
This makes me the perfect person to tell you everything you need to know about attending the Spring Carnival.
Someone with actual knowledge of horse racing will tell you about the horses. This information is beyond pointless.
You, like me, see the Spring Racing Carnival as the perfect opportunity to get dressed up, have a few drinks, dazzle everyone with you witty conversation and if you’re single, capture the heart of someone, at least for the evening.
In reality, your clothes will be uncomfortable and unsuitable for whatever weather turns up on the day, you’ll get drunk too early and be barely able to stand, your feet will hurt and that person you were so keen to dazzle will leave with someone else.
This in no way actually detracts from the fun of the event. If anything this adds to the racing experience. The races are a mess, a glorious, magnificent mess.
So let’s look at the keys to having fun at the races.
Be Friends with Someone with a Car Park
When someone first told me they had a car park at the races, I stared at the blankly as they waited for me to respond with amazement.
As the awkward silence continued they cracked and said, ‘Would you like to come to my car park on Derby Day?’
This was honestly the weirdest invitation I’ve ever received.
It turns out a car park at the races is a grand thing. It’s almost as good as knowing someone with an in ground pool.
Much of the action at the races occurs in the car park but here’s where the similarities with a suburban nightclub end.
People get a bit of space with their car park and set up chairs tables, marquees, bars, food and the rest. Many end up very impressive. It is all class, for the first few hours.
Apart from the marquees, the car park is probably the best invite on the day.
Strongly consider not going if your invited to general admission. I’ve done it and it is awful. It’s crowded with poorly dressed, uncouth, drunk people. Actually, that was the best day of my life.
Have an Exit Strategy
When America entered Iraq for the second time I remember thinking ‘if Iraq is anything like Flemington on Oakes Day they’d better have an exit strategy’.
Some may say this comparison trivialises the serious of the situation but Iraq turned out to be pretty bad so the comparison is fair. There’s also strong evidence a bad exit from the races contributed to the rise of ISIS.
Leaving the races is hell, a living hell. Everyone is drunk, tired and has sore feet. They are also desperate to keep drinking. If I ran the trains there would be alcohol for sale everywhere after the races. Nothing improves a situation better than alcohol, I’ve always believed that.
The public transport is packed and breaks down and not having a plan results in you been screamed at by a group of women holding shoes in their hands. This is not the thrill I’d always imagined it to be.
Personally, I rate the helicopter as the best exit strategy but this is an expensive option and after a rather unfortunate incident involving fireworks, is no longer open to me.
The main thing you need is a destination to get to after the races, then determine a way to get there. The worst thing ever is a group of drunk people all trying to work out where to go.
This will add two hours to your exit as people just wander around saying ‘we could go here’, while others give bizarre reasons why they can’t, like ‘I got knocked back there seven years ago for spitting on the bouncer’ or ‘I’ve slept with all the bar staff there’.
Decide where you’re going before the day and know how your getting there. This is the best advice you’ll ever receive in your life.
My advice is to leave a bit early. Who cares about the last few races? Not you, you haven’t watch a single one. Get to a pub, there are drinks there and if your lucky, those little Peking duck rolls.
Never Wear Fake Snake Skin Shoes
The same goes for leather ties, black shirts and white shoes. Every year there are people who think a nice suit and tie doesn’t express their individuality enough.
Do not follow this path; it leads to the dark side. All it says about your individuality is that, you, as the individual in question, have no taste.
These rules of course do not apply to women because they all look amazing every time I go to the races (I’m not a rookie, I know what to say).
Know your Drinking Limits
I’m all for going hard but the races are a marathon, not a sprint. You will be going hard but for a long time and probably in the sun. The person telling you they’re on their 4th beer at 10am is probably 14 years old and will be throwing up in a bin by noon.
When someone goes hard early and then later requires looking after they are a burden to their friendship group. This is hardly tough.
Remember people; the aim of the races is a good time and a long time. Lasting the distance is to be admired in many disciplines in life.
Do Not Wear Clothes or Shoes that are so Uncomfortable, You Have to Drink to Make Them Comfortable
This is a mistake you see time and again. It’s great to look good at the races and the competition is intense but three hours in, everyone is so smashed you could be wearing a sack.
Trust me, one year I was forced to test this and still won an early round of fashions on the field.
Having to go home early due to a clothing issue is a terrible sin to commit.
Honour the Pre-Race Traditions e.g. Pre-Train Drink at Young & Jackson
Because eating and drinking all day at the races is just not enough, you must have a pre-racing ritual.
Meeting at a pub beforehand is a great idea as it enables to make a good impression on the opposite sex before you’re so drunk you can’t form multi-syllable words.
My favourite pre-race ritual is to hand a friend a note and say ‘give this to my family if I don’t make it’.
Remember to Eat
You need to eat. It’s a long day and your going to consume enough alcohol to kill a horse. Trust me, it takes a lot of alcohol to kill a horse.
Some idiot will say ‘eating is cheating’ but when they’re passed out in the gutter you’ll be finding a quiet corner at the pre-determined post-races pub, with the person they’d been chatting up all day.
There Will be Lying about Winning Money
Someone will give you tips early in the day which will all be a bust. Later however, they’ll say ‘I won $400 on race 6!’
They are lying. This happens every time you go to the races. Unless you see the betting slip and see them collect, this person has serious self-esteem issues.
If you are that person, I want you to know, we know.
Take Cash, Lots of Cash
Sweeps, betting, alcohol, food and bribing jockeys all require cash. Do not count on ATMs which will have lines so long you’ll possibly sober up while waiting in them. This would be a tragedy. You are not that entertaining sober.
Finally, You Know Nothing about Betting
People often laugh at those who choose horses based on colours or names but nobody really has any idea when it comes to racing.
Reading that morning’s paper doesn’t make you some expert and your mate who’s been to the races a couple of times outside the carnival still lives with his parents so can hardly be winning big.
My preference is to place the smallest amount possible ‘each way’ on the favourite and revel in the disdain the TAB staff member projects upon you.
When I win my $1.50, I just tell people ‘I won $400 on race 6′.