The turf, where the going's good for love
By Daniella Miletic
Racegoers Paul and Petra Thomson at Flemington yesterday. They met at Oaks
Day four years ago and were married earlier this year
Photo: Joe Armao
"See how they run" may be the slogan of this year's spring racing carnival, but the carnival, which started yesterday, is not only about horses. Or fashion. Or the drink.
For many Melburnians, it is the place to meet someone.
In 2000, Paul Thomson put on his best suit for Oaks Day. He went there to meet up with friends, have a drink, a bet, and perhaps meet some new people.
"I certainly didn't think I was going meet someone I would spend the rest of my life with," he says.
But that's exactly what happened. Mr Thomson, 35, met Petra in the corporate area at Flemington. In March this year, they were married.
"I have to make this point," he smiles. "Nothing actually happened on the day. I am not that kind of guy."
Mr Thomson, 35, says the races are a breeding ground for couples and first dates. Carnival ambassador Claire Hawks agrees. She met husband Michael at the races in 1999.
"It was good to have the races as a background. It wasn't a sleazy bar or anything like that. Everyone was having fun and drinking and making the odd bet, and it was just a good relaxed atmosphere. A good spot to get to know each other," she says.
Ms Hawks, the daughter of female jockey Linda Jones, says it also helps when everyone is looking their best. "They have made a special effort, and when you are dressed up like that you feel fantastic. You feel attractive, you feel sexy, and the guys look great. I love a man in a suit, I think it's hot. Everyone has really gone to the extreme to get dressed up."
Organisers estimate that more than $15 million is spent on spring fashion. The biggest-spending group is 20-to-29-year-old women, followed by 19 or under men. Looking good on race day is important, says the carnival's public affairs director, Peta Credlin: It helps people interact. That, coupled with younger carnival patrons, has changed the face of racing.
Oaks Day, says Ms Credlin, was traditionally a ladies' day out. Today, the gender ratio is about even.
"If you are a single man about Melbourne, Oaks Day is a wonderful day to get out and about. They've got an attraction there," she says. "Out of the four big days in the carnival, Oaks Day is the younger of the crowds."
Yesterday's crowd at the Turnbull Stakes was a mixture of families, pushers on the lawns and young men gathered in the members' area.
Ms Credlin summed up the mood of the carnival: "Spring - it is just a wonderful time of year, coming out of grey old Melbourne in winter," she says.
"If you were going to meet your would-be boyfriend at the football you would be all rugged up, sitting outdoors. It's a completely different atmosphere."