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:: 2017 VRC Spring Carnival - AAMI Victoria Derby Day

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

A crowd of 87,526 enjoyed sunny spring weather to see Ace High win the 2017 AAMI Victoria Derby at famous Flemington on Saturday. It was the first Flemington Group 1 win for trainer David Payne, while it was jockey Tye Angland’s first victory at Australia’s premier racecourse. Three-year-old colt Ace High clinched the $1.5 million dollar staying classic by two lengths from Sully and Astoria.

Earlier, the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained Cismontane secured his place in Tuesday’s Emirates Melbourne Cup by winning the Group 3 Lexus Stakes. Merchant Navy ridden by Mark Zahra took out the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes for Aaron Purcell, filly Shoals beat the mares to win the Group 1 Myer Classic, and the Chris Waller-trained Shillelagh pipped stablemate Tom Melbourne in the Kennedy Mile.

There was also plenty of action off the track with many famous faces joining the tens of thousands across Flemington’s grandstands, marquees, lawns and car parks. The popular Birdcage Enclosure was home to a host of celebrities including Jennifer Hawkins at Myer, Melissa George and Robyn Lawley at Kennedy, Usain Bolt at Lavazza, Shanina Shaik at G.H. Mumm, and Natalie Imbruglia at Sensis.

The Birdcage is the premium enclosure for luxurious sponsored marquees and saw a couple of new players make their mark on the big day - Kennedy and 1 Oliver Street. This was a momentous occasion for Kennedy, the Australian jeweller and watchmaker, which sealed a five year deal with the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) in gaining naming rights for the Oaks Stakes, plus the Kennedy Mile on Derby Day, and hosting a prime marquee in the Birdcage. It was a stylish setting inside the marquee where watches line the walls behind glassed cabinets. Amongst its other guests were Karl Stefanovic and girlfriend Jasmine Yarbrough, Rob Mills, Alan Fletcher and Jennifer Hanson.

Over at Sensis Digital Marquee it's swinging '60s mod for its second year at the track. A linear neon backdrop by Tasmanian artist Paul Snell offsets bar staff who are dressed in Jack London looks from the latest SS17 collection. A very modern feel. They set the tone for a week jam packed with entertainment by having Natalie Imbruglia perform this Derby Day. She performed her hit song “Torn”, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year, plus a few other numbers.

Palazzo Lavazza is keen to display that usual Italian flair, so guests will be well looked after with velvet furniture and armchairs throughout, while laminex on walls create a marble effect and hints at Italy's grand interiors. Designer Neale Whitaker has changed the look of the marquee - an elevated area which is less dance floor and more lounge chill out. Gary Ablett attended “Palazzo Lavazza” in his first appearance since his Geelong homecoming was finalised, joining Marcus Bontempelli, Joel Selwood and young Melbourne footballer Christian Petracca, who will be working the coffee machine. Australian actress Zoe Ventura flew in from Los Angeles for the day and says she’s thrilled to be home. She was also a Lavazza guest.

Meanwhile, Myer kept its usual stylish form by hosting Jennifer Hawkins, Rebecca Judd, Jodi Anasta and Rachael Finch, as well as other guests Wayne Cooper, Olympia Valence and Brooke Hogan. The VRC, itself, gave some of its members, who had constantly asked for a piece of the birdcage action, an opportunity by hosting 1 Oliver Street, a stylish split level marquee which showcased great food and beverages, plus some musical entertainment.

The champagne maestros at G. H. Mumm went above and beyond last year's indoor swimming pool by anchoring a large yacht at the entrance of their marquee which had high roller written all over it. Those lucky enough to be invited enjoyed a private cocktail party within the tinted yacht and also got to taste the Grand Cordon – which comes in a new bottle lauded for its modern design aesthetic. I spoke to champagne expert Chris Sheehy just prior to Derby Day and their team was keen for something even bolder than last year's swimming pool and the yacht will make its presence felt. Aside from that instant draw card, he said that they'll be serving rose which is proving a growing market for Australian men. Rose is perfect for their nautical theme this year.

The Schweppes Marquee was back with chic black and gold décor. VIPs can indulge in an impressive cocktail menu including The Highland Orange brimming with smoky scotch whiskey and the Chilli Cuban, which is infused with dark rum and passionfruit syrup. Rozalia Russian was this year's ambassador and the marquee emphasized the historical aspect of the Schweppes name. Emirates didn't go for a particular nation theme this year, instead it opted to showcase a classy lounge-feel akin to their beautiful airport lounges. According to Emirates Regional Manager Dean Cleaver, guests were treated to a true A380 airline bar – with the latest version in the marquee. “It's all about non-stop food service, champagne and cocktails all round and gives those who are invited to our marquee a chance to mix and mingle like they would in the business lounge on a flight.”

Most VIP guest stuck to the black and white dress code, but plenty pushed the boundaries with pops of red, gold and purple in an attempt to stand out from the champagne-swilling punters. Accessories were a popular way to make a statement, with tie bars, chains, pocket squares and embroidered loafers seen on scores of gents. Round sunglasses ruled, while white jackets and subtle separates also proved popular.

The fashion stakes rivalled the on-course action with Myer Fashions on the Field for both women and men in The Park. First-time entrant Monelle Mondello of Northcote, Melbourne took out the Women’s Racewear AAMI Victoria Derby Day crown in a black and white striped outfit complemented by a black wide brim hat, and will compete with the daily winners from Emirates Melbourne Cup Day and Kennedy Oaks Day for the Victorian title and entry into the National Final. Gilles Belinga from Cameroon, Alexander Jordan from Melbourne and Neil Carpenter from Sydney were selected as the three finalists to compete in the Men’s Racewear final on Emirates Melbourne Cup Day.

More pictures from Derby Day can be viewed here

Chris Sheehy on Mumm boat
Nikki Phillips and Donny Galella hosted Fashions on the Field
Kate Waterhouse in Lexus Jonathan Brown & Tom Hawkins in Lavazza
Rob Mills in Kennedy Olympia Valence in Myer
Natalie Imbruglia performed in Sensis Digital
Karl Stefanovic & Jasmine Yarbrough were guests of Kennedy
Usain Bolt pooped into Lavazza Roza & Nick Russian in Schweppes
Neil Perry and co in Lexus
Carlton crew in Lavazza
Guests in 1 Oliver Street
G.H.Mumm boat
Fashions on the Field entrants Schweppes guest