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And they’re off! The Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is underway, with all eyes on the major prize, the Melbourne Cup on 1 November. Saddle up for our guide to the big-ticket races and boldly bright fashions…

Melbourne Cup, Victoria

They don’t call it the ‘race that stops a nation’ for nothing: on the first Tuesday in November, le tout Australia grinds to a halt to watch 24 nags make a charge for the Melbourne Cup. Win or lose, a country-wide party follows. It’s not just a one-off wonder, though, with a host of races leading up to and following the main event, including the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate (22 October), Derby Day (29 October), Oaks Day (3 November) and the family-friendly Emirates Stakes Day (5 November).

Jamie Lowe at the Caulfield Cup, Melbourne

Truth be told, it’s the chance to frock up – not have a flutter – that draws most women to the racetrack. Your spring racing kit should be bright and breezy. Some fixtures have their own set of rules: Derby Day’s dress code is smart black and white, Melbourne Cup is all vibrant hues (perfect for this season’s colour-blocking craze), and Oaks Day, also known as Ladies’ Day, favours feminine flair.

Look to Zara Phillips or local gals Kate Waterhouse and Emma Freedman (dashing daughters of major racing identities) for tips on how to get it right: sculptural hats, dainty gloves and sophisticated, knee-skimming dresses (refined, not raunchy). Jamie Lowe (right) gets the balance of fun and feminine just right.

Experience has taught that if you wear stilettos, you’ll spend the whole day sinking into the grass; the smart money is on wedges or a stacked heel.

Gents, suited and booted is the way to go – this is a jeans-free zone (take note Enrique Iglesias). Feel free to pull out that pink shirt or go for a tie that’s louder than you’d wear to the office. Sanity should prevail though – there’s never a right time or place for cartoon characters.

Men and women can see just how right – or wrong – they got it with Fashions in the Field, as racegoers face-off in a runway showdown.

Necking champagne in the sun… yeah, we know how that can end. Very badly. Keep your shoes on, your self upright and your dignity intact. If you’ve got yourself an invite to a sponsor’s marquee, then that’s where you’re expected to stay for the day – no straying into the Emirates tent because they have better bathrooms, or trying your luck on the door at Crown so you can hobnob with SJP. Giddy up.

When it does come time to kick your heels off, check into a Melbourne boutique hotel that’s within easy reach of the racetrack. For Caulfield races, The Prince in St Kilda, The Cullen in Prahran and South Yarra’s Lyall Hotel and Spa are your best bets. Flemington starts are best serviced by Villa Donati in Richmond and Apartment 401 in the city centre.

For the best places to eat, drink and play in town, take a peek at our Melbourne destination guide.

Fashion photos, from top: Renuka Rajadurai, Style Sage; Luc Wiesman, D’Marge.

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