No other one-day sporting event attracts anything near the punter attention assigned to the Melbourne Cup. In fact, the exact same could be said of the attention of the entire country.
In a country where horse racing is the third largest spectator sport, it is only natural that the crown jewel of racing is granted a level of significance that transcends the Sport of Kings.
It captures the notice of people who would otherwise pay little heed to some of the racing events that take place during almost every month of the year, with the possible exception perhaps of the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate or The Magic Millions and a handful of others.
The cultural and societal facets that account for the immense popularity of horse racing in Australia are complex and varied.
We prefer to leave those reasons for the scrutiny of anthropologists and sociologists. This is, after all, a horse racing site.
We wouldn’t appreciate the scientists offering well-meant but ill-informed insights about our claimed area of expertise, so we will gladly steer clear of theirs.
Instead, we propose to take a closer look at The Race That Stops A Nation, aka. The Melbourne Cup, and cover some of its history and lore, and then leave you to form your own conclusions as to why the first Tuesday of November so captivates citizens from all walks of life and every socio-economic stratum.
The Cup is run at Flemington Racecourse in what is now the heart of the city of Melbourne.
Racing had been going on in the area since early in the 1840s, less than 10 years after the city itself was established. The first officially documented race took place just two years prior in March of 1838 near what today is the Spencer Street railway station.
The track, originally called Melbourne Racecourse came along a few years after. It sat on the alluvial flats adjacent to the Maribyrnong River. The land was considered as being the property of the Crown and was still in 1848 and under the administration of the Governor on NSW, Sir Charles Augustus FitzRoy.
Eventually, what had been known as the Port Phillip District became the colony of Victoria in 1851. FitzRoy decreed that 352 acres of land be set aside for a public racecourse, appointed six men, quite possibly mates of his, as trustees.
Twenty years later, this committee was sanctioned by the Victoria Racing Club Act and the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) sprang into existence.
The current name of the track derives from the birthplace of the wife of James Watson, an Australian entrepreneur who owned the land over which the original road used to access the track crosses.
She hailed from the town of Flemington, not far south of Glasgow, Scotland. Watson built a hotel on the land in 1848 and a town sprang up surrounding.
The wealth that was attracted to Melbourne during the gold rush in the 1850s and the explosion of real estate values in the following decades provided a ready source of revenue that was used by the VRC administrators and first secretary Robert C. Bagot to make constant upgrades to Flemington.
This practice that has continued to the present era with new turf immediately following the carnival in 2006 and new grandstands in 2000. Millions of dollars, nearly 100 million, have been pumped into maintaining Flemington as one of the chief sporting and recreation areas, certainly of the city of Melbourne and in all probability to the credit of the entire country.
Now that the course was well established and attracting racing aficionados to the goings on, we will move to a closer scrutiny of the race itself.
The first Melbourne Cup was held in 1861. It was won by Archer, the product of British sire William Tell and native dam Maid of the Oaks.
Legend has it that Archer covered the 800 kilometre distance from his home stable in New South Wales, but it would seem that this story is apocryphal.
His trainer, Etienne de Mestre, regularly used steamers to transport all of the horses in his charge betwixt racing venues in Sydney and Melbourne.
At any rate, Archer managed to appear and also to win the very first Melbourne Cup quite handily. He beat the favourite, Mormon, by six lengths in front of 4,000 spectators.
The following year, Archer would beat 19 others even though the VRC had given him 64 kg to lug around the course.
Mormon was again relegated to second place, this time by 8 lengths, which incidentally is the longest margin of victory in Cup history, matched only by phenom Rising Fast in 1954. Attendance in the year 1862 was almost double what it had been the previous year.
What would horse racing be without a good controversy? That was soon to be the case in 1863 when Archer was denied participation due to a technicality involving his acceptance and the failure of telegraph technology to get the proper documents into the hands of the proper officials in the proper time frame.
The dust-up resulted in many owners scratching their runners, leading to the all-time low Melbourne Cup field of just seven. What is often overlooked regarding this incident is that Archer was injured and would in all probability not been tried.
Famous winners is subsequent years include some of the greats, including The Barb in 1866, Glencoe in 1868 and other significant horses culminating in the victory in 1890 by one of the acknowledged all-time greats, Carbine.
Carbine was one on many New Zealand natives to win the Cup. In 43 starts, he failed to place only one time, winning 33 times.
Another true legend, Poseidon, bested 20 others when he won the Cup in 1906. That fine runner jumped exactly as many times as Carbine won, 33, and won 19 of those, placing on seven other occasions.
The years 1929 and 1930 produced two champions whose names are well known. The first of these was Nightmarch in 1929 that won also that same year the W. S. Cox Plate and the Epsom Handicap.
1930’s winner, Phar Lap, requires no introduction. His story is well chronicled and he was also another New Zealand stayer that won consistently from 1929 to 1932.
He occupies the enviable status of number 22 of the top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century in a country that has produced Man o’ War and Secretariat.
Moving just several years forward, we encounter Peter Pan that did what no other since Archer had done: win two Melbourne Cups. His victories in 1932 and 1934 were two of his victories in a consistent career that found him winning many major races of the Australian racing calendar.
1937 found the Cup being won by The Trump. The year 1937 was exceedingly productive for this gelding, as he won the Caulfield Cup as well, putting him in the rarified company of just 10 others that have accomplished the Cups Double.
He was also something of a rarity for being able to compete and win at distances ranging from 1200 metres to 3200 metres.
1945, 46 and 47 featured wins by Rainbird, Russia and Hiraji, respectively, great horses all and paired with jockeys Billy Cook, Darby Munro and Jack Purtrell, all multiple Cup winners as hoops.
We may be neglecting a few worthies, but we next look at Comic Court, the 1950 winner. He is notable for several reasons; he was trained by Bart Cummings sire J.M. Cummings for one. Cummings had bought his sire and dam for fire sale prices during World War II when racing had been cancelled in Adelaide. Like
The Trump, Comic Court was also adept at sprints, middle distance and staying events. He carried 59 kg to win the Melbourne Cup, setting a record of 3:19.5 that has been bested on only a very few occasions.
1954 belongs to Rising Fast. This New Zealander with lines tracing to Gainsborough, was a workhorse in every sense of the word, making 68 jumps.
He enjoys the singular distinction of being the only horse to ever win the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and W.S. Cox Plate in the same season.
He won the Caulfield Cup again in 1955, but was relegated to an unlucky second in the Melbourne Cup when he was jostled, some say interfered with, by eventual winner Toporoa. Rising Fast jockey Bill Williamson and owner Leicester Spring did not lodge the expected protest, but Toporoa jockey Neville Sellwood did receive a two month suspension for the incident.
Moving up through the years, we next find winner Light Fingers in 1965, Galilee in 1966 and Red Handed in 1967. All great champions in their own right and notable more so for their courtesy in providing Bart Cummings with his first, second and third Melbourne Cup victories.
Those three also gave jockey Roy Higgins two Cup wins, but it was John Miller taking the ride on Galilee for the 1966 win.
Trainer Bart Cummings would not win the Melbourne Cup again until 1974 and 1975, when it was Think Big, ridden by Harry White that supplied the honours.
In the interim, we find Rain Lover with Jim Johnson aboard for two consecutive Melbourne Cups in 1968 and 1969.
Rain Lover was the unwitting victim of another Melbourne Cup controversy for the second win in 1969 when Bart Cummings trained and heavy favourite Big Philou was tampered with and had to be scratched less than an hour before the start of the race. Nonetheless, Rain Lover was the first back-to-back winner since Archer in 1861-62.
Returning to New Zealander Think Big in 1974 and 1975, we find Think Big running down his stablemate Leilani in the last 50 metres.
Not only did Cummings receive his fourth Melbourne Cup win, but also his third quinella of the race.
Think Big jumped at 33-1 the following year, this time again beating a stablemate, Holiday Waggon, giving Cummings another Cup and another quinella!
Again neglecting many worthy champions, we come to another Bart Cummings trained horse, 1990 winner Kingston Rule. Kingston Rule was sired by U.S. Triple Crown winner Secretariat, the number two position holder of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century.
The 1990 Melbourne Cup win by Kingston Rule set the all-time speed record of 2:16.3. He would go on to have a successful stud career.
Betwixt 1990 and 2003, we find a veritable Who’s Who of Australian thoroughbred racing. Mention must be made of Let’s Elope (1991), Subzero (1992), Doriemus (1995) and Might And Power (1997).
2001 found Ethereal taking the post. This mare from New Zealand had a season in 2001 that any stable would accept gladly as a record, including the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup Double.
Following her in 2002 was Media Puzzle. Media Puzzle was foaled in the U.S. with Irish, U.S., Canadian French bloodlines. He had a somewhat tragic career.
His Melbourne Cup victory was steered by Damien Oliver, whose brother had died just a week previous to the running of the Cup. Media Puzzle himself was destroyed after shattering his leg in the 2006 Ascot Gold Cup.
Many would say that a horse of Media Puzzle ‘s age at the time should not have been racing, quite justifiably.
Of course, we have saved the best for last.
What was to take place in 2003, 2004 and 2005 will likely not be achieved again, certainly not for the foreseeable future, or the distant, unforeseeable future either, for that matter. More Free Bets on the Melbourne Cup can be found here.
Makybe Diva, an Australian mare, was first trained by David Hall for her first Melbourne Cup win in 2003. Inexplicably, or perhaps not so, he left Australia for the bright lights and big money of Hong Kong, turning the horse over to Lee Freedman.
Freedman was only too glad to accept this stroke of good fortune, having had an eight year Melbourne Cup drought since Doreimus in 1995.
Makybe Diva would enhance the value of Freedman ‘s stock by bringing him Melbourne Cup victories in 2004 and 2005.
So influential was she that when Freedman implied that perhaps the mare would be held out for the 2005 race, VRC stewards bowed to the demand that the track be watered to make it more accommodating to seven-year-old legs.
She would also win the W.S. Cox Plate that same year, but she will forever be remembered as the first to win the Melbourne Cup three times successive and only time will tell whether or not she is to be the only.
The only possible comparison might be the Super Bowl of U.S. football, but that is a debate that could rage long into the night, onto the next morning, afternoon and evening without being satisfactorily concluded, but it would most certainly be an epic argument.