How I popped my racing cherry at Derby Day.


I don’t speak hat. This is possibly why I’ve never been to the races before this weekend when I went to Derby Day and popped my horse cherry. That phrase sounds really disturbing so we shall keep moving quickly past it.

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to the races many times in the past decade and I’ve never even considered it. Why would I? I don’t speak hat. Or horse.

I just don’t GET the races. And I’m easily intimidated by things I don’t understand or have never done before.

I have no idea why this year was different, why I said yes. Probably because I’ve done nothing but go to work and come home for what feels like forever and almost is.

I have been craving an injection of….something. Anything.

My date and chaperone for Derby Day was Em Rusciano, host of our radio show, Mamamia Today and in possession of all the qualities I like in a date: assertive, energetic, organised, reassuring, a little bit naughty and looks hot in a tux.

Well in advance, I’d had it explained to me that the Derby Day dress code was black and white and that I had to wear some kind of hat or headpiece. “But I don’t speak hat!” I wailed to anyone who would listen. And they all laughed at me. Clearly they were fluent in hat and thought I was joking.

I was not.

From a discount store, I ended up buying a small black flyer saucer – “Straw! For Derby it has to be straw!” said everyone as if I understood what that meant – with some lethal looking black sticks poking out of it and a couple of feathers attached to a headband. I had no idea how to wear it.


I knew what I wanted to wear; a Willow skirt and jacket I’d bought earlier this year that seemed sufficiently unlike anything I’d ever worn before to be suitable. Covered up. A bit nanna, frankly. As little as I knew about the races, I was scarred by visions of girls falling out of dresses shorter than most of the tops I own and heels higher than some of my chairs.

I was already intimidated enough by the idea of wearing something on my head. I didn’t want to have to worry about the world being my gynaecologist.

A few days before I flew to Melbourne, I had a dress rehearsal in my bathroom and sent this picture to Paula Joye with the message: “I feel like I’m in fancy dress but I’m going with it.”

“Excellent” she replied. “Go with a red lip. And the tiles are very Derby. Nice.” I told her I would try to find a way to pack the tiles and incorporate them into my outfit, and headed for the airport.

Saturday morning – Derby Day – and I woke up in my hotel (The Olsen) with a headache. Bad start. I went to the gym to try and exercise it out but that just made it worse so I took proactive steps to remedy the situation quickly before I began to get ready.


These were my steps:

*no, this is not product placement, the Panadol was in my minibar GOD LOVE YOU THE OLSEN!

As I ate my breakfast, Em and I had this text exchange:

I do love that woman. She has my number. I suspected I may need several HTFU cans before the day was done.

By 9:30am it was time to start getting ready. It really was a very odd thing to be putting so much make-up on my face on a Saturday morning when I’d usually be still in my pyjamas at home. Hatless.

Make-up? tick.
Spanx? tick
Hair? tick

I had no frame of reference for whether my hat looked good, bad or ridiculous. See above point about not speaking hat.
So I just packed my handy black studded Sportsgirl clutch with make-up, cash, tickets, cordless phone recharger, credit card, emergency tampon & Ventolin (best be prepared!) and phone and went downstairs to wait for my handsome prince(ss).

She looked MAGNIFICENT. You can’t see in this photo but she had diamantes glued under her left eyebrow, a killer tux and earrings that were teeny tiny black spider studs in each ear.

Em and Austereo publicist who was also called Em (and looked hot in a Cue dress with neon yellow nails) were already waiting for me and Em Rusciano had kindly brought a spare hat from Melbourne milliner Brett Morley which looked far better according to her.

Power Lesbian Couple

Don’t we look like an ad for marriage equality?

Power lesbian couple.

We arrived at the track and I was startled to see a horse. It was the first and last one I would see all day. But whatevs.

The rest of the day was just…

I spent most of it feeling like a baby who is over-stimulated. If you’ve ever had one or taken care of one, you’ll know what I mean. When they just can’t take on board any more sensory information and they just have to cry it out. It’s the only way to process it.

I didn’t want to cry but I was certainly overwhelmed. There was just….so….much.

We spent the day in the Myer Marquee – ‘tent’ hardly does these things justice, they’re larger than your house and decked out like a wedding and then some.

As a mad people watcher, my eyes were on sticks. Sometimes literally because my exquisite Brett Morley headpiece (a headpiece! I was wearing a headpiece!) sat partly on my face and I kept poking myself – and others – in the eye with the protruding bits.

First to be impaled was Matt Preston. He took it very well, gentleman that he is. Every time I went to kiss someone, I’d take their eye out. Next was Andy Lee and I sort of lost track after that as between injuring my fellow guests, I had a few cocktails (before lunch! me! drinking before lunch!). At one point, I was kissing Jennifer Hawkins (suck it, men) and I urged her to be careful of getting poked and she said “I just kissed your stick.”


She is a good woman that Hawkins.

Oh the chats I had. Dave Thornton – Em’s co-host on Mamamia Today – met us there and looked incredibly dapper in his suit. As did all the blokes. Zoe Foster was there with Hamish, Monty Dimond (she and I have been speaking and emailing for months but had never actually met so there was much flinging our arms around each other and I may have played with her hair which is INCREDIBLE JUST QUIETLY).

Every so often I’d leave the tent to go to the loos in the birdcage (the name of the area in which all the marquees are located – nobody could tell me why it was called that). There was so much to look at. So many women (and men) who had gone to so much trouble to dress up. Not since that one time I went to the Logies have I seen such visible effort.

In the loos one time I bumped into my friend Nicky Briger who edits Who Weekly and we went to the Emirates Marquee. “Name?” the nice lady on the door asked. “Freedman”, I replied. She looked at the list on her clipboard. “Emma Freedman?” she asked. “Yes,” I confirmed and we were ushered inside.
THANKS EM – David Jones racing ambassador and racing royalty, as well as the Today Show weekend weather reporter. Owe you one.

The fun continued. I have one of the strongest in-built handbrakes of anyone you know. Fun does not come easily to me (there’s another column in that) but I tell you? I cut a bit loose at Derby. I had several drinks. I EVEN HAD A COFFEE. Zoe got one for me when I spied hers and asked for a sip. Except hers was decaf and had vodka in it.

They made you anything in the Myer tent. Cocktails, champagne, wine, soft drinks, coffee. Food came around constantly.

Honestly, the whole thing was a trip. In a good way.

I couldn’t believe it when 5pm came around and my date said our pumpkin had arrived to whisk us away.

Oh, and just one thing. Last week Em wrote this guide to keeping yourself nice at the races. One of her main points?
Do NOT take off your shoes.

I’m just saying…..

PS: Em wishes to make it known that the picture above was taken when we arrived back AT THE HOTEL and at no time did she remove her shoes within a 25km radius of a horse so there.

Check out all the fashion from Derby Day in the gallery below:

And flick through our gallery from last year’s Spring racing carnival:

For a rundown on how YOU can wear a hairpiece to the races click here and for a little race day make up inspiration click here