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The Victoria Racing Club says the notion that Oaks Days is “Ladies Day” is long gone as they reposition Thursday’s famous race day as an opportunity for business to entertain clients and mingle in a more relaxed environment than the other three days of the Cup carnival.
VRC chief executive Steve Rosich said the club expected about 45,000 people to gather at the track as the James Cummings-trained Zardozi takes on the Gai Waterhouse-trained Tropical Squall in a big name Oaks battle. It’s a far cry from the nine years between 1995-2003 when Oaks Day drew more people to Flemington than Derby Day.
VRC CEO Steve Rosich, at the Flemington Birdcage, says the smaller crowd leads to a better experience for those attending.Credit: Arsineh Houspian
During that period, the event transformed from a pleasant day of racing called Ladies’ Day that attracted women of all ages to a monster occasion colloquially – and eventually disparagingly – known as Blokes Day with 100,000-plus crowds crammed into every corner on the track.
Post COVID, Oaks Day is at an interesting juncture, with Kennedy’s sponsorship of the race concluding while its identity is being reimagined.
“The unique selling point of Oaks Day is that it falls on a working day, so it presents an opportunity for corporate partners to engage with clients and promote their businesses in a fun and exciting environment,” Rosich said.
He said the club had not positioned Oaks Day as Ladies Day for some time but because the moniker was so strongly attached to the event in the past it would take time for awareness to shift.
They are not standing still, aware of shifting expectations with the non-gender specific Fashions on the Field competition introduced last year one example of change.
There is also an awareness among corporate sponsors and individuals attending that while dressing up and conveying a touch of glamour is fun, they also need to be mindful of community concerns.
RMIT marketing expert Con Stavros said the environment had changed since the start of the century.
“Corporates are cautious by nature. There was a time if you were sponsoring or involved in an event nobody asked you anything about it,” Stavros said. “Now if someone misbehaves or something gets questioned on social media the corporate sponsors are called to ask what their view on it is.”
Kennedy Oaks Day will be rebranded with a new corporate partner in 2024 after the current partnership ends on ThursdayCredit: Getty
That reality makes the environment in which Oaks Day operates much more complex than it was 25 years ago when adding marquees and crowds was an indicator of success.
“It is hard to maintain the momentum and big event organisers sometimes think they need to reinvent it year after year,” Stavros said.
“There is so much more competition for entertainment. It is challenging and I don’t think there is a magic answer to it. These things sometimes resolve themselves organically.
“People decide what the day will be…sometimes you just have to go with what people are telling you.”
Bridget Marshall (left) and Tresna Cusack says the opportunity to dress up and make a day of it at the Oaks has appealCredit: The Age
On Wednesday, Bridget Marshall and her sister-in-law Tresna Cusack, both from Perth, attended the VRC Oaks Club lunch at Crown Palladium before attending the race day itself.
“It’s Bridgy’s birthday treat,” Cusack said, adding that Oaks Day was part of a visit to see family and friends.
Marshall said: “My parents came to Cup week 20 years in a row, but they haven’t been since COVID, they are in their 80s but won’t be back, so they have passed on the baton to me.”
Cusack has previously attended Cup Day and this year chose Oaks Day and Saturday’s Stakes Day with a desire for a little variety.
Marshall said: “I love it that there are four big races days that everyone can attend and it’s nice that ladies get a special mention.
“It’s nice that ladies can shine and dress up – I think it is fantastic and I hope it never ends.”
All VRC partners are opening their marquees in The Birdcage on Oaks Day and in this year the VRC introduced an initiative to raise awareness the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal.
Patrons are being asked to wear a touch of purple in recognition of the appeal and jockeys will wear purple breaches in race three. The VRC wants to use the day to raise money and also reveal a side of racing that is rarely seen. Rogue Traders will also perform late in the afternoon.
“Sport had always been seen as the last bastion of appointment viewing where everyone gathered to watch,” Stavros said. “That is starting to fade. Sport has realised it is an enticing product but it is just another product in that entertainment world.”
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