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Race Day Etiquette and Traditions: What Are the Rules for Race Day in Australia?


With hundreds of years of tradition, Australian horse racing has fostered countless national and local customs and rules for etiquette. Horse racing is the third most attended sport in the country, just behind Australian rules rugby and football, and is such a storied and celebrated sport that traditions and rules of etiquette are commonplace on race days. Some events or racetracks will go so far as to enforce an extremely strict dress code, while other annual events invite race enthusiasts to really express themselves through their race day wear. Here is a list of what you need to know for race day.

Race Day Betting Rules for Beginners and What to Bring to the Track for Race Day

To place a bet, you must tell the ticket agent the racetrack, which race you’re betting on, how much you are betting, whether you’re betting for the horse to win, place, show, or a combination of those options, and then the number of the horse you’re betting on. Along with your sunscreen and possibly binoculars, you will want to have a racetrack program handy, which has all the information you’ll need to know about horses, owners, and jockeys, as well as a daily racing form, which will tell you about your horse’s past performances, handicapping, and horse racing articles that might give you the free racing tips you’ll need to win.

(Somewhat) Standard Rules of Dress and Track Specific Traditions

Many race tracks have their own rules of dress, and many are rigidly enforced. For instance, at Randwick Racecourse in New South Wales, the racecourse Chairman demands that coats and ties be worn at any and all official race or member functions, but the tradition and etiquette doesn’t just apply to race enthusiasts, as owners are obliged to comply with the track’s requirements in order to obtain Members’ tickets. According to horseraceaustralia.com, the formal dressing rules are commonplace at “any other metropolitan racetrack,” which explains why there are websites specifically devoted to the attire of Melbourne Cup race fans, foregrounding the importance of style and tradition in the sport. There are also traditions that are unique to each track. For example, tracks in New South Wales and Queensland see the horses run clockwise, whereas races in South Australia, among other areas, run counter-clockwise. Flemington has a 1200-metre straight course for sprints.

The Melbourne Cup: Australian Horse Racing’s Biggest and Brightest Tradition

As the biggest horse race in the nation, the Melbourne Cup festivities actually take place over the course of four days, but on race day itself there are parties all over the city; race fans celebrate by dressing up, holding their own “best dressed” competitions, and betting on the races. Melbourne Cup week starts with Victoria Derby Day, where women traditionally wear elegant black and white clothing, and men will often choose to wear grey morning suits, pin-stripe pants, and a peacock vest. On actual race day, men and women are encouraged to add more colour to their ensembles, and really make a fashionable statement through extravagant dress.

The goal of formal dress at the racecourse is not to dismiss attendees who might not be able to afford such dress, it’s to foreground and respect the traditions of the sport so that future generations can experience the same joys and unique sporting events. Australian horse racing events like the Melbourne Cup continue to captivate fans and the rest of the nation alike because of these associated traditions, perhaps more than the actual race. So remember your formal wear, sunscreen, and racing guides when you aim to get out and do some betting on race day.