It’s actually pretty exciting, standing on the fresh grass waiting for the rolling drumbeat of the hooves hitting the ground as they come past you while you try to spy if your number is in the lead. Did we win?
Or, to be more accurate, we picked the winner.
Actually, to be really accurate, my friends and husband picked a winner. I was just in the betting pool, along for the ride and a good time because I know next to nothing about horse racing. On the rare occasion I do bet, I usually pick the horse with the funniest name. (Seriously, what is it with race horse names?) We were at the Saturday meeting of the Oakbank Easter Racing Carnival in Oakbank, South Australia, and I was having a very good day out. What’s not to like about good weather, getting to dress up a bit, a little bit of excitement and risk, good wine, good company and some people watching?
Easter is a four-day weekend in Australia, with Good Friday and Easter Monday being public holidays. If you are looking for something to do other than camp or get some projects done around the house, I recommend spending time at the country racing carnival.
I didn’t grow up in a part of America that watched or even talked about horse racing, but it is a big affair in Australia. There are even public holidays just so punters can have the day off to go to the races (i.e. Melbourne Cup Day and Adelaide Cup Day). And, yes, racegoers get dressed up in their finest to attend the race.
Oakbank is a slightly more laid back event, good for racing or fashion novices like myself. It is basically a massive picnic with entertainment on the side, including the races, and a few carnival rides, a climbing wall, and a kids Easter egg hunt.
Event wear for the women ranges from casual summer dresses with black, flat, ankle-high country boots to high-end fashion labels, gloves and fancy hats or facinators for those looking to enter the Fashion At The Races competition. The men wore anything from nice shorts and collard shirts to three-piece suits (mostly for those entering the competition). The variety of race-wear means it is easy to pick something you’ll be comfortable in; it also makes for interesting people-watching.
The race track is a bit of a rounded triangle. Racegoers park in the middle and can bring their own food and drink, which usually includes a long (likely gourmet) picnic lunch. If you don’t feel like bringing your own food, there are food and beverage trucks. And, if you have members tickets (like we did thanks to our friends) then you have access to a bar and stands along the finish line. Depending on the day, the shade in the stands might be a welcome benefit.
The races start from about mid-day and run roughly every 40 minutes until 5 pm. This gives you time to place your bets, collect your winnings (assuming you get them), and eat and drink in between races. The races are a variety of distances around the approximately 1800 m track, which has a few small rises in it around the back.
If, like me, you are new to racing, I suggest betting in one of two ways (or both). Choose a horse and put a small amount of money on it to win, or “on the nose.” The other option is to place money on a horse “each way,” which means you win if the horse wins or just places. Never put down more money than you can lose, but a small amount on a race ($2 or $5) does make watching the horses more interesting. In my few race outings, I’ve lost my money. Which is also why I generally stick to small bets. However, this Easter we came out even for the day – which means I had a lot of fun outside and it didn’t cost me anything!
Getting to Oakbank
Oakbank is about 30 km from the Adelaide CBD. To drive, the easiest way to get there is via the freeway – National Highway M1. Take the Hahndorf exit, heading left at the roundabout and right at the second roundabout so that you end up on Onkaparinga Valley Road. Both the town of Oakbank and the race course are on the road. There are also buses that can be booked from various parts of the city with your ticket that will take you to the races.
There are various packages, which range from marquees that include food and beverage to General Admission. GA tickets are $30 per adult and include access to the centre of the track and the back paddock area with the food trucks. If you do not bring your own picnic, then you’ll want to add some food and drink money to your budget, expect about $15 for lunch and $8 per alcoholic beverage. Also, don’t forget to add a bit of betting money in to your budget to ensure you get the most out of your day out. If you back a winner or two, you might even leave with more money than you started!