Her many years of innovations as vice chairman of the Victoria Racing Club, have been followed by the pursuit of making the Melbourne Cup bigger and better.
Amanda Elliott, only the second female committee member in the VRC’s 140-year history, is as enthused as ever as she tells us what drives her passion to promote the ‘Race That Stops the Nation.’ Among her many goals, as she strives for the all-round improvement, is to ensure that Flemington’s iconic flat race maintains its proud history as it attempts to transform itself into a truly global event.
GN: So what makes the Melbourne Cup and the Spring Racing Carnival so unique?
Elliott: I think that the Melbourne Cup is unique in many ways. This year it’s 153 years old so historically it’s a very important part of everybody’s racing calendar, whether you are just in Australia or whether you are overseas. The knowledge and the awareness of the Melbourne Cup is very important to us and I think the mystique is that unlike most other Group One races around the world it’s a handicap and not weight for age, which means that it’s a level playing field, where the battlers can knock off the millionaires of the world and that’s a great Australian sort of thing. We Aussies love a level playing field, all comers, it’s not just the most expensive horse in the race that is necessarily going to win it, which gives every horse in the race an equal chance. That’s a distinguishing feature. But I think one of the most amazing things about the Melbourne Cup is the ownership and buy-in by the whole nation. Racing and non-racing people alike, everything stops for the cup. I don’t think there is any country in the world that has a public holiday for a horse race, that’s indicative of how important it is.
GN: The key to the success of any event is promotion, how have you marketed the Melbourne Cup?
Elliott: Tours. Every year the Melbourne Cup tours around Australia because there are so many fans in far-flung parts that will never come to Melbourne so we take the cup to them and I can assure you that I’ve been on some of those tours and people travel hundereds of kilometres just to see it. And that’s the mystery and the love for the cup that exists around our nation, which we hope to spread worldwide. The tour lasts three months before returning to Flemington in time for the race on the first Tuesday in November. The tour is a fundamental part of what drives the huge interest in the Melbourne Cup. It presents a great opportunity for fans to get closer to one of the most sought-after trophies in horse racing.
GN: What does the Melbourne Cup do for the economy?
Elliott: It puts in A$400 million (Dh1.5 billion) of economic benefit to the city of Melbourne, through fashion, hotels, restaurants — everything you could imagine puts in an enormous economic benefit, which is why the governament love us to join their trade missions because everyone understands the Melbourne Cup, particularly with Emirates as a sponsor.
GN: Are you happy with the level of international participation in the Melbourne Cup?
Elliott: Very happy. It’s a very expensive trip and we don’t pay for the international participants to come to Australia, unlike Japan or Ascot. Then there are the travel and quarantine issues as well. So there are lots of impediments to it becoming more international but it’s still very, very popular. It’s one of those races that every big horse owner has on his bucket list. They want to win a Melbourne Cup.
GN: Has the Melbourne Cup’s popularity overshadowed the other major races?
Elliott: Perhaps a little and that’s what we want to build on, we want to internationalise our other races. We would love the international trainers, who have now learnt that its much better to have lead-up runs in other races, to re-think their plans. Dunaden came back last year to win the MC but actually won the Caulified Cup, although he did not win the Melbourne Cup. So other races around the race are benefiting from the presence of international runners, but we would like to develop our support card further. We’ve got a multi-million dollar 2000-metre race on Derby day for instance, which we would love to see more international runners target, and we’ve got the Emirates Stakes, which is over a mile, and the Group 1 Patinack Farm Classic, which is a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge that we’ve put a bonus towards, so anyone who wins a race that’s part of the Sprint Challenge somewhere else and then wins the Patinack gets a A$600,000 bonus. So we’re putting in all sorts of initiatives to try and bring other horses for other races as well.
GN: Is it safe to say that the Melbourne Cup is the biggest party in Australia?
Elliott: All the major racing jurisdications are represented at our carnival and they are all blown away by the event. It’s not just the racing but the actual event and the style and the hospitality. They love it and, of course, they try to replicate it all over the world. So for us the Melbourne Cup is a unique social event because the buzz is palpable. Parisians think they are the only ones who know about Georges Rimaud, who is the manager of the Aga Khan Studs in France, and he was simply amazed by the style that Melbourne displays at the time.