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The Melbourne Cup


By Jessie

Fancy hats and fascinators, form guides, office sweeps and champagne. It must be time for the Melbourne Cup!

The first Tuesday in November is held dear in the hearts of Australians and thoroughbred racing fans all over the world. With the commentator's cry “and they’re off...”, the race that stops a nation gets underway, and a collective intake of breath can be heard as all eyes remain glued to the track or nearest screen.

Since its inception in 1861, the Melbourne Cup has been the pinnacle of Australian racing. In 1895, Mark Twain, in attendance, was heard to declare “No where in my travels have I encountered a festival of the people that has such a magnetic appeal to a whole nation. The Cup astonishes me!”

A truly iconic event, the Melbourne Cup was built on aspiration and has known both tragedy and triumph against all odds. A powerful symbol of Aussie fortitude, the Cup has a history steeped in legend.

Held each year at Flemington Racecourse, the Cup covers a distance of 3,200 metres. Widely regarded as the most prestigious, and arguably, the most challenging “two-mile” handicap in the world, it has become the star event of Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival.

Fascinating facts about the Melbourne Cup

  • Seventeen horses competed in the first race to win £170 and a gold watch. An old Aussie yarn relates how the winner, Archer, walked 800km to the course from Nowra in NSW (it's now thought that he travelled by ship). A crowd of 4000 were in attendance, although this was way below expectations. News had just reached Melbourne about the death of pioneering explorers Burke and Wills and the whole state was in mourning.

  • By 1880, 100,000 spectators flocked to Flemington to witness Grand Flaneur win the greatest race prize in Australia. Considering the population of Melbourne was only 290,000, this was an extraordinary turn-out, emphasizing just how deeply the event had become ingrained into the national psyche.

  • The Melbourne Cup is known for producing some of the best thoroughbreds in the history of racing. In 1890, the great horse Carbine, carrying a record weight of 10 stone 5 pounds became a symbol of hope and courage amidst the despair of the stock market crash when nearly a third of the Melbourne workforce lost their jobs.

  • The twentieth century saw the rise of Phar Lap, a truly phenomenal creature, who at the time was considered the best race-horse in the world. Amidst the backdrop of the Great Depression, Phar Lap would draw a huge crowd, who would back him with what little money they had. Bookmakers offered very short odds on him, even refusing to accept any bets on some races. The life and demise of the “Red Terror” or “Big Red” is steeped in mystery and intrigue. After escaping death prior to the 1930 Cup, when he was shot at by gangsters, his sudden death in California in 1932 – just days after winning the Agua Caliente Handicap, in Mexico - has never been explained.  Phar Lap's heart was remarkable for its size, weighing 6.2 kg, compared with a normal horse's heart at 3.2 kg and when news of the champion’s death reached Australia, the nation grieved.

  • The whole world paid attention when model Jean Shrimpton wore a miniskirt to Derby Day during Melbourne Cup week in 1965. 'Fashions on the Field' is now a major part of the event, with substantial prizes awarded to the best-dressed male and female racegoers.

  • The trophy for most inexperienced horse trainer to win a Melbourne Cup must go to Mick Robins, who took out a license just four months before the race! His horse Rain Lover won that year and again in 1969 to become only the third horse ever to win two Melbourne Cups.

  • In 1985, the Prince and Princess of Wales paid a Royal Visit to Flemington to watch the first million dollar Melbourne Cup, won by What A Nuisance.

  • Sheila Laxon became the first woman to train a Melbourne Cup winner with the victory of Ethereal in 2001.

  • Popular jockey Damien Oliver rode Media Puzzle to victory in 2002, securing his second Melbourne Cup win just seven days after his brother Jason was tragically killed in a track accident in Perth. Embodying the true spirit of the race, Oliver buried his brother 24 hours later.

  • In 2005, Makybe Diva became the only horse to win three Melbourne Cups (winning in 2003 and 2004), also creating a new weight-carrying record for a mare at 58kg in 2005. Jockey Glen Boss was her rider each time, and contributes to the Cup legend with a dramatic history of his own. Boss broke his neck in a race fall in Hong Kong in 2002, coming within millimetres of becoming a paraplegic. Sixteen months later, he rode the Diva to victory.

Enjoy the Melbourne Cup! 









3 Responses to

The Melbourne Cup

November 07, 2007 at 11:29 AM


WHOOP WHOOP!!!! Melbourne Cup GOES oFF!!! I live in Melbourne and i LOVE IT


November 12, 2007 at 3:51 PM


There are some useful facts there Jessie. Maybe they will help me choose a winner next year.


QuizNose said:
November 12, 2007 at 4:13 PM


Sure was an eeeeee-fficient race this year ;-)