Behind the scenes: The small businesses that power the Melbourne Cup

Melbourne Cup 2021

Horses ride in race 2, The Macca's Run, during the 2021 Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington Racecourse. Source: AAP Image/Hamish Blair.

Businesses working behind the scenes of this year’s Melbourne Cup are ecstatic the event is going ahead with a crowd of thousands of fans expected to attend today’s big race.

The atmosphere at Flemington Racecourse will be a far cry from last year’s when COVID-19 restrictions prevented crowds from watching the big race. But with about 10,000 people expected to fill the racecourse today, the Melbourne Cup is a huge operation demanding significant effort to run seamlessly.

Roger Cameron, managing director of Mittys, has spent the past month making sure each of the racing horses has a custom-made saddle cloth, rug and staple jacket featuring the horse’s name and race sponsor.

“It’s fantastic to have people back at the Melbourne Cup and Spring Carnival,” Cameron tells SmartCompany.

“Flemington is a venue that needs people and the event helps an enormous number of businesses like mine in the event game who are going to do better this year than they have in the past.”

A century of service

Founded in 1905, Mittys has been servicing horse racing events with custom-made cloths and rugs for more than a century.

Today, Mittys uses dye sublimation printers to manufacture the tailor-made woven polyester items for race horses. The entire process takes about one month, which is about three times faster than when the business used to manually sew the products by hand.

Cameron says the business started out manufacturing leather bags and tote boards for bookmakers before turning to rugs and cloths.

The business, which is affiliated with the racing flag manufacturer Evans Evans, employs about 26 staff in Victoria. 

“From our point of view, the Cup going ahead is fantastic because there’s more activity around all the sponsors,” Cameron says.


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‘Our first large event in 19 months’

Held on the first Tuesday in November, the Melbourne Cup is arguably one of the country’s biggest sporting events of the year.

On average, Australian adults spend $179 on Melbourne Cup Day, spending $88 on betting and $91 on entertainment, fashion and dining, according to research from the comparison website Finder.

Last year, Australians wagered a record $221.6 million on the Melbourne Cup.

For Gab Robinson, chief executive of event supplies and management business Harry the Hirer, this year’s event is a milestone moment.

Headquartered in Victoria, Harry the Hirer employed 1200 staff pre-pandemic, which it reduced to 50 before increasing to 450 in time for the end of Melbourne’s most recent lockdown.

“This is the first large event we’ve done in 19 months,” Robinson tells SmartCompany.

“That’s why it’s so important to us, and it’s actually incredibly important to the state because it demonstrates to the people that we’re back in action and it’s time to start having fun again,” he says.

The Victorian Racing Club, the organiser of the Melbourne Cup, contracts Harry the Hirer to provide the majority of marquees, furniture, table settings, lighting and audio visual equipment around the racetrack.

Robinson says on top of supplying the equipment, Harry the Hirer provides event management and logistical services. 

“We’ve been involved with the Victorian Racing Club for about 30 years, since the Melbourne Cup started having a corporate attendance,” he says.

“I applaud the Victorian Racing Club for having the leadership and strength to find a way to hold their event with so much uncertainty.”


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