One of Australia’s older tracks, Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne is certainly the most famous, if for no other reason than being the site of the Melbourne Cup each spring.
There are certainly many other fine tracks, such as Rosehill, Caulfield and Moonee Valley, but no other is known, as is Flemington, as “Headquarters.”
The first edition of the Melbourne Cup was held in 1861, but racing had been going on since the middle of the century, commencing in the 1840s, held in the flats along the river Maribyrnong.
Originally known as Melbourne Racecourse, the name Flemington derives from the Scottish birthplace of the wife of the prominent Australian landowner who held the property that the original access road to the course crossed.
As time passed and the city of Melbourne expanded from the shores of Port Phillip Bay, Flemington Racecourse, once some distance free bets to the north of the city, was enveloped to the extent that it can now be said to occupy central Melbourne, proudly and prominently.
It has been, and is a source of great civic pride for Melbourners that has been well maintained and enhanced over its history.
Today, the racing programme, which was once held in the autumn, was switched early on, in 1854, to take advantage of more favourable weather. The track also serves as the training facilities for over a dozen racing operations and it is also used, at least for as long as the endangered species of jumps racing survives, as a facility for hurdles and steeplechase racing.
Recent statistics show that there are a total of 69 Listed or better quality races held at Flemington, with 13 of those being Group 1, with allowances made hopefully, for the at-time capricious nature of the ARB and its classification system.
Visitors to Flemington Racecourse who desire a more in-depth view of the track and its history would do well to look in on The Flemington Heritage Centre, where they can see examples of memorabilia and displays depicting some of the more historic happenings from decades past.
As for the main event held at Flemington, the Melbourne Cup, its history is extensive and colourful. Some of the greatest horses, trainers, jockeys, owners and even big-time punters are associated with the race track, some to their glory and others to their detriment.
The first race in 1861, which was won by Archer, was witnessed by a crowd of spectators estimated to be around 4,000 in number.
This number seems ridiculously small until consideration is given that prior to the gold rush, the population of the city would have been under 100,000 and at the time of the first running of the Cup, around 150,000 in a country claiming just over one million inhabitants.
In those early days, there was little in the ways of amenities as far as rails or stands are concerned.
From that inaugural year of 1861 until 1875, the race was held on a Thursday. In three years at the height of WWII, it was run on Saturday. By 1880, attendance had grown to 100,000 out of a population in Melbourne of less than 300,000.
Archer won again in the following year of 1862. Then there followed a span of 70 years until another multiple winner emerged in the form of Peter Pan, the winner in 1932 and 1934.
The 1933 winner was White Nose, a horse with an undistinguished racing career, but with the presence of a most distinguished great grandsire, 1890 Melbourne Cup winner Carbine. Rain Lover was the next to post two victories in 1968 and 1969. He was followed in fairly short order by Think Big in 1974 and 1975.
These great champions were relegated to second place, however, when a mare named Makybe Diva came along in 2003 to post the first of three successive victories, a feat that almost defies comprehension.
As for jockeys, two have managed to notch four wins. There was Bobby Lewis in 1902, 1915, 1919 and 1927, a span of 25 years, the last coming aboard Trivalve when Lewis was just short of his 50th birthday.
He would be aboard Phar Lap two years later in what would go down as a very controversial race where Phar Lap was checked in the early going and had to pull hard to manage a third placing.
The other to win twice was Harry White in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979. His first two were courtesy of New Zealander Think Big and the final two came aboard two more New Zealand bred horses, Arwon and Hyperno, respectively.
Two trainers, Sydney born Etienne de Mestre and fellow Sydney native Lee Freedman, have five Melbourne Cup victories to their credit, which pales in comparison to Bart Cummings, who grew up in Glenelg, SA, in the shadow of Morphettville Racecourse, son of J.M. Cummings, the trainer of the 1950 Melbourne Cup winner, Comic Court.
Flemington is just 6 km northwest of Melbourne’s Central business District. The Melbourne Cup Carnival 2014 website recommends that motorists enter the racecourse by following a route that starts on Dynon Road, proceeds to Kensington Road and concludes on Hobsons Road.
A small number of public parking spaces are available in the centre car park for $20. Heavy traffic is to be expected and arriving as early as possible would not be ill-advised.
Public transit is available in the form of trams, buses and shuttles. Taxis limousines and hired cars are also an option.
For those who wish to make a grand entrance, helicopter transportation can be had, complete with VIP courtesy vehicles that will drop you off right at the gate, for under $500 both ways.
There is also ferry service along the Maribyrnong River for groups that departs from the city centre straight to Flemington.
There is much to do and see over the four days that comprise the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
Many different travel packages are offered and with a little planning, you can arrange an experience that will take full advantage of the many attractions of both Melbourne and Flemington Racecourse as the entire country take part in the lead-up to the Race That Stops A Nation