Swan Hill Races- a survival guide

My first experience of country races was at the Berrigan Cup way back in 2002. My memory of it was a marquee full of Yellow bottles and dirt. Before I was to attend my next country race meet, I was swept up in the world of the Spring Racing Carnival held in Melbourne each year. These city races were full of stylish people, impractical shoes and wine bottles smuggled in bread loaves. Fast forward to 2014, my first year in Swan Hill and my return to country racing. In winter. I was not prepared.

Winter races bring a whole set of new challenges. And with the June Racing Carnival kicking off today, here are a few tried and true tips to get you through, whether it’s one day you attend or the whole three.

#1 Outfit

Nailed the jacket, shirt and tie… perhaps needed a looser fitting pant…

Gentlemen: you have this one easily covered. A suit- pants, jacket and shirt will see you through the day in style and keep you warm. If you’re wanting to impress, a tie and pocket square never go astray. Note on the foot wear- stay away from white, square-toed shoes. I don’t know who invented them, I don’t know who thought they looked good, but what I do know is that they are not to be worn. EVER. You’ve been warned.

Ladies: races in the winter time is a practical nightmare. Proper race wear is not winter-friendly. So you have to think a little creatively. Outfits which you can layer thermals underneath are an option, as are skirts or knee length dresses you can wear tights/stockings with. Make sure you have a jacket or coat that you can throw over the top because you’re going to need it.

Purchasing outfits in a small town provides issues as well- obviously you have fewer stores to choose from and there is a good chance that someone is going to have the same outfit as you (this happened to me one Oaks Day in Melbourne- I saw another four ladies who had the same dress, so instead of getting upset, we embraced it and got ourselves a photo together). So if you’re ok with not supporting the local economy, get yourself organised and order something online or recycle something you already have in your wardrobe to avoid that awkward, “It looks better on me right? Guys? Right?” question to your friends.

White shoes- not race attire

Shoes are the other nightmare- rain makes the grass wet, which turns into mud as soon as thousands of people start walking on it. So avoid stilettos at all costs, flats are a good option however if some height is needed, I suggest wedges. If you can make it work though, gumboots are my number one choice of footwear. Stay away from chunky, white, heeled strappy shoes. Again, I don’t know who designed them or who thought they looked good. But they don’t. EVER. You have been warned.


#2 Marquees

Marquees have numerous benefits- a covered place to store your things, a spot to stand under (ideal in winter), a go-to place when you lose your friends, chairs for when you get over standing, and depending on the type of marquee you are in, it may also include copious amounts of alcohol and food to sustain you throughout the day. They also have a couple of downsides- you may never leave your marquee due to the previously mentioned features. If you’re not that keen on actually seeing a race you may not see this as a downside at all. But the best part of country races is the people watching- so do treat yourself to viewing at least one race from the general admission area, I guarantee you will be entertained.

#3 Horse-betting

Form-guides…. Over-rated. I highly recommend these three strategies instead:

  • backing the horse with the jockey that is wearing silks in a combination that is most pleasing to the eye
  • choosing the horse that has a name that you can make a connection to (no matter how small) and call it an omen bet (eg. Race One today: my pick ‘Peppa’ because my nephew watches Peppa Pig. I’ll be putting five on the nose)
  • pick the horse with long odds. Just ask anyone who backed last year’s Melbourne Cup winner

The only time to ignore above advice is in the company of people who actually know what they are talking about when it comes to picking a winner. Take a lesson from my experience ten years ago…. Trying to impress a guy at a Cox Place race in Melbourne; he wanted to pick 1, 3, 7 for the trifecta. I batted my eyelids and said my favourite number is 6. He changed it to 1, 3, 6. His original trifecta came through with the goods. A lot of goods. Enough said.

#4 Drinking

Depending on the weather and how you are faring with your bets, drinking may be the only thing that you can guarantee will have a fairly predictable outcome. No one needs to see you and your partner battle out your latest saga at the finish line, no one needs to see you running around with nothing but your boxers on, no one needs to see you head first in the hedges throwing your guts up. Pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint when spending the day at the races.

#5 Transport

Organise your departure vehicle well before you decide to depart. Taxis become non-existent between 4 and 7 pm, especially on Sunday. It is an extremely long walk in heels when you want to kick on down the main street. Organise a parent, a soon-to-be-parent or someone who owes you a favour to come and pick you up. Or pack flat shoes. And band-aids. You can never have enough band-aids.

So hopefully you have been able to take one or two pieces of advice to help ensure you have an enjoyable day/s at the Swan Hill Racing Carnival. I’ll be there at the finish line, wearing gumboots, wishing I was in a marquee and downing the last of my smuggled in bubbly, wishing I’d put $1000 on the nose of my successful omen bet (see #3). So hopefully I see you there. And if not… do you have access to a car around 5pm on Sunday?

**Fun Fact: Berrigan Races is the only racetrack in NSW to run in the Victorian direction (anti-clockwise)


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