It’s usually kept under lock and key in a Flemington safe, but this week the Melbourne Cup is bound for Shanghai as Australia’s horse racing industry takes its biggest punt yet: on China.
The Victorian Racing Club is putting the country’s best-known trophy on show in three Chinese cities in an extravaganza spruiking fashion, travel and the glamour of horse racing to China’s growing population of racing fans.
It’s not the first time the cup has left for China, but this visit — in partnership with Myer and local designers, encouraging Chinese racing enthusiasts to participate in a fashions-on-the-field-inspired event — represents the largest spectacle the VRC has ever staged overseas. It also comes at a time when the local racing industry is courting Chinese interest harder than ever. “We have taken giant strides into the Chinese market over the past three years, with Chinese visitation to the Melbourne Cup carnival growing by 152 per cent over this time,” VRC chief executive Simon Love said of the catwalk events that will draw more than 1200 travel agents across Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu.
“Initiatives such as this pave the way for this trend to continue and provide our travel-agent partners with a taste of the world-class racing, fashion, entertainment and hospitality their clients can enjoy at the Melbourne Cup carnival.”
While horse racing exists in China, betting is illegal and the backdrop of Xi Jinping’s anti-graft drive has complicated the sport by casting a pall on racecourses.
Even so, the country’s interest in the sport continues to grow, with more wealthy Chinese choosing to invest in horses and syndicates in Australia and hand-picking local trainers such as Gai Waterhouse and Darren Weir for the task.
Chinese travellers contribute a growing proportion of the $400 million the cup injects into the Victorian economy each year, pouring money into luxury fashion and jewellery, hotel stays and other high-end experiences including wine tours and gaming, according to the VRC.
“The visitors come to the carnival not just for the racing and the fashion, but also to experience one of the world’s most picturesque and famous racecourses, to dine in its restaurants, picnic on the lawns among the rose gardens and celebrate,” Mr Love said.
Horse racing and other luxury-focused businesses in Sydney are making their own moves to cater to the growing market.
The Australian Turf Club at Randwick holds an annual Chinese Festival of Racing and has a growing relationship with the China Horse Club, which has sponsored several races at headline carnivals, including the Golden Slipper and races a growing number of horses at Randwick.
China-focused real estate agency Black Diamondz has teamed with Chinese horse racing outfit Kylin to promote a swag of Australian designers in China and to bring several Chinese designers to Australia showcasing their own take on fashions on the field.
“Racing combines so many things that the Chinese are becoming more passionate about,” Black Diamondz director Adam Williams said.
“It involves all these things like fashion, jewellery, travel and wine against the backdrop of an international industry that just has so much history and tradition behind it. It’s a really compelling package, but initiatives like this mean its actually accessible to newcomers.”