Riff Rocket launches in the Penfolds Victoria Derby

4 November 2023 Written by VRC

The magic of the Melbourne Cup Carnival returned today as 73,056 racegoers including Hollywood A-lister Matt Damon, Danish Royalty Count Nikolai of Monzepat and supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio flocked to Flemington for Penfolds Victoria Derby Day, the first day of Australia’s greatest race week.

Under blue skies and amidst a sea of roses, favourite Riff Rocket narrowly nosed out Apulia to claim the $2 million Group 1 Penfolds Victoria Derby for trainer Chris Waller, his second Derby win in as many years, and champion hoop James McDonald, who won Australia’s oldest classic for the first time.

 It was one of many highlights from a spectacular day of racing in which Damien Oliver, as he has so often before at the Melbourne Cup Carnival, stole the headlines. He may not have won The Damien Oliver run in his honour, but he landed a double taking the Group 3 $300,000 Lexus Archer Stakes (1100m) and the Group 3 $200,000 Furphy Sprint (1100m),

Kalapour (IRE) ridden by Damien Oliver wins the Lexus Archer Stakes. (Vince Caliguri/Getty Images)

The Lexus Melbourne Cup dream is now a reality for the connections of Kalapour, with the Kris Lees-prepared stayer earning a berth in the ‘race that stops a nation’™ on Tuesday after his victory in the Lexus Archer Stakes. Given a masterful ride by Oliver, he fought off all challengers and will return for Australia’s greatest race on Tuesday.

Oliver was joined by Tim Clark and Jamie Kah in riding doubles, while Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott claimed training honours with a brace of their own.

Ozzmosis ridden by Rachel King wins the Coolmore Stud Stakes. (Getty Images)

The $2 million Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) was won by the Bjorn Baker-prepared Ozzmosis under a terrific Rachel King ride, while daring tactics on the lead from Declan Bates aboard Pride Of Jenni paid off when the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained mare held off all challengers to take the $1 million Group 1 TAB Empire Rose Stakes (1600m).

The world-famous Birdcage Enclosure played host to a who’s who of entertainment, sport, business and media including supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio, actors Matt Damon and Pia Miller for Lexus, AFL legend Lance and model wife Jesinta Franklin, along with models Erin Holland and Nikki Phillips for Penfolds, international models Jessica Gomes, Bambi Northwood-Blyth and Montana Cox for G.H. Mumm, Australian cricket great Michael Clarke for TAB, businesswoman Bec Judd and TV personalities Anna and Tim Robards for Crown, model Tess Shanahan, and AFL players Toby Greene, Tom Mitchell and Mason Cox for Schweppes plus Melbourne Cup Carnival Ambassadors including Gemma Owen, Count Nikolai of Monpezat, Georgina Burke, Christian Wilkins and Demi Brereton

Now in its 61st year, Melbourne Cup Carnival Fashions on the Field kicked off in The Park with traditional black and white styles dominating. In hotly contested finals, the top three for both categories were selected with the Best Dressed winners Eleanor Campbell, Lily Simons and Holly Webb along with the Best Suited winners Steven Giofches, Maree Horseman and Lou Smith all heading straight into the grand final on Kennedy Oaks Day.

The creative and design-led Emerging Designer Award was judged by an elite panel including fashion designer Rebecca Vallance and Melbourne Cup Carnival Ambassadors Count Nikolai of Monpezat and Christian Wilkins. The winner was Melbourne-based creative Jessica Virk who is currently undertaking her final year in Bachelor of Fashion Design at Whitehouse. With a passion for experimenting with different fabrics and construction techniques, her winning look was an incredible mix of traditional shapes with a newfound modernity. 

Victoria Racing Club Chief Executive Officer Steve Rosich said the club was thrilled to have racegoers flock to Flemington in large numbers for a perfect day of spring racing, fashion, food and fun.

 “Penfolds Victoria Derby Day is a day for the racing purists but there was something for everyone on course today, from fashion to food to world-class racing,” Mr Rosich said.

“More than 73,000 people made for a magic day with every corner of Flemington filled with the colour and excitement that we know and love about the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

“From Riff Rocket’s flying finish in the Penfolds Victoria Derby Day to a winning double for the legendary Damien Oliver, the opening day of Cup Week set the scene for a stellar Lexus Melbourne Cup Day.

Riff Rocket ridden by James McDonald wins the Penfolds Victoria Derby at Flemington.

Attention now turns to Tuesday where the Lexus Melbourne Cup will draw the eyes of the nation and the world to Flemington as 24 of the best stayers from Australia and abroad compete for a place in history.”

After the opening day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, the Ron Hutchinson Award for top jockey over the four days is led by McDonald on 10 points ahead of Kah on eight and Oliver and Clark on six. The J B Cummings Award is presented to the leading trainer, with Waller on seven points just ahead of Waterhouse and Bott on six and Cummings’ grandson James on five.

The final field for the Lexus Melbourne Cup (attached) has been set for Tuesday’s ‘race that stops a nation’™ with topweight Gold Trip attempting to become just the sixth horse to win Australia’s greatest race more than once.

Ahead of the second day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, the 64th Annual Racing Mass will be held tomorrow morning at St Francis Church, on the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets in Melbourne’s central business district.

Commencing at 9:30am, the Racing Mass is attended by people of all denominations representing many sections of the racing industry. It is offered for the wellbeing of the sport as a whole.

Lexus Melbourne Cup Day celebrations will head into the Melbourne CBD on Monday from 11am on the Crown Riverwalk at Petanque Social.

Tickets for Lexus Melbourne Cup Day, Kennedy Oaks Day and TAB Champions Stakes Day are still available for members and the general public via Ticketmaster. For more information visit​.