Purple Pearls are back on track this year to co-ordinate Grafton Cup Fashions on the Field.
Purple Pearls are back on track this year to co-ordinate Grafton Cup Fashions on the Field.

Changing face of the July carnival

This year there are big changes afoot, or hoof, for the July Carnival, in both its racing and fashion components.

One of the biggest changes sees the carnival incorporate an extra Sunday of racing re-branding the July carnival as an 11-day event.

Clarence River Jockey Club CEO Michael Beattie said most of changes revolved around Westlawn Finance Prelude Day, which was still the opening event of the carnival but was now on a Sunday.

"It's hugely important in forming the field for some of the biggest races over the event but we decided to move it back from (the first Thursday in) July to (Sunday) June 30 this year. That's a pretty big change,” Beattie said.

He said besides the opportunity for more people to make it to a weekend race meet, "what it does, is it allows some of the horses racing in the preludes a better chance at a full recovery before going into the big races later in the carnival.”

The prelude victors go on to the Grafton Cup or the Ramornie Handicap, as well as the Grafton Guineas. From there the July carnival's reputation as the Springboard to Fame lives up to its claim where the winning horses have the chance to race at a range of prestigious metropolitan meetings.

Mr Beattie said there were also economical advantages for the Clarence Valley as extended carnival dates also encouraged a longer stay for the racing fraternity and spectators.

The social side of the carnival will also see a few changes to programming, namely the very popular Fashions on the Field platforms.

While Mr Beattie's foray into the carnival's fashion element perhaps stops at jockey silks, he is adamant the support shown to the CRJC in maintaining a strong social program is encouraging.

"While we are disappointed Grafton Shoppingworld have stepped away as the overall major fashion sponsor, we are extremely pleased that existing category sponsors (from the shopping centre) have elected to support the event this year independently. We will always give preference to our existing supporters but also hope there are opportunities next year for more businesses to be involved.”

Mr Beattie said the biggest change in the Fashions on the Field program would be that the main focus will be on Grafton Cup Day rather than South Grafton Cup Day and this year some familiar faces will be back to oversee the competition.

The fundraising group the Purple Pearls has come on board this year to co-ordinate the main Fashions on the Field event, which will include all your favourite categories including Best Dressed Classic and Contemporary Lady, Best Dressed Gent, Best Dressed Couple and a millinery award.

"The sponsorship is looking brilliant with the bulk of previous sponsors remaining involved, including Red Hot Hair and Jacqui's Shoe Boutique. All I can say is that if you are going to glam it up this carnival, do it on Grafton Cup Day,” Mr Beattie said.

Spokesperson for the Purple Pearls, Lisa Dougherty, said they were looking forward to being a part of the carnival's social atmosphere once more. The group has plenty of carnival form, having run a very successful fundraising marquee over the years.

"We raised about $150,000 for Clarence Valley charities over a decade in the Purple Pearls marquee,” Lisa said.

"It was very popular during its time so with our involvement in the fashions this year, we hope to raise our profile enough to perhaps bring back the marquee next year.”

Lisa said they were planning on making a few tweaks to the competitions' nomination process to generate more entries.

"We will have tables at the member's carpark gate and the main gate to encourage people to enter as they arrive and we will also have scouts walking around the crowd.”

She said they were also hoping to streamline the event so it doesn't impact on racing activities.

"People like to get back to watch the races so we will make sure the whole process is quick and painless. We're hoping to eliminate the long lines too and make it a bit more personable with a special area set up near the stage where entrants can enjoy a drink and snack ahead of competing.”

And while the group's involvement is more about holding the fashion fort than raising money for charity this time, the organisers are pleased to support one of the Clarence Valley's biggest events on the calendar.

Lisa said the judging panel was yet to be decided but did say they would be looking at returning to racing fashion's roots when it came to decision-making

"We are looking forward to seeing all the lovely race fashions. Our local ladies are very attuned to what constitutes race wear.

"A hat is essential and, as it is a winter carnival, we will be looking at choices that complement the season so winter-length dresses, felt millinery and heavier fabrics, also handbags and hosiery.”

"We'd love to see people experiment with their own look but it needs to all come together under the winter racing carnival umbrella,” Lisa said.

On the children's fashion front this year, Westlawn will hold their annual Black & Gold fashions on their race day, which also includes a ladies and gents' section while the Maclean Cup Day sponsors the Maclean Bowling Club will be co-ordinating their own children's fashions sections at the final meeting of the new 11-day carnival.

"It's going to be a big carnival this year,” Mr Beattie said.

"There will be a lot on offer, but we're all looking forward to it.” - OT