The Melbourne Cup is the biggest thoroughbred horse-racing event in all of Australia. It is such a major event that it is a public holiday in Melbourne, along with a few other places in Victoria. Going way back to 1865, the day of the Melbourne Cup was a half-day in the city.
Here is what you need to know heading into the Melbourne Cup, which is for horses three years and over. Known as “The Race That Stops A Nation”, it happens every year on the first Tuesday in November.
The Melbourne Cup was first run in 1861, and it is acknowledged that it was started by Frederick Standish, who was the chairman of the Victoria Racing Club. A total of 17 horses started the Melbourne Cup on that day, and 4,000 people reportedly watched the race. Archer was the first winning horse at the Melbourne Cup, which he followed up with another win in 1862. In fact, Archer could have won a third Cup in a row in 1863. But the acceptance letter from trainer Etienne de Mestre was late arriving to Melbourne, and Archer was scratched.
In 1882, gambling laws allowed the first bookmakers were licensed to take bets at Flemington Racecourse. Then, in 1931, the Melbourne Cup used a totalisator for the first time. It wasn’t until 1961 that the Totalisator Agency Board started in 1961. Now, it is the biggest betting day of the year in Australia.
The Melbourne Cup has always been held at Flemington Racecourse, which opened in 1840. It has a listed capacity of 120,000, but the largest crowd for the Melbourne Cup was 122,736, which came in 2003.
A total of 24 horses can start this event, for safety reasons. The largest field in the history of the event is 39 horses, which was set in 1890. On the other end, the smallest field was seven horses, back in 1863. When Archer was scratched, many owners that had horses trained by de Mestre decided to pull their thoroughbreds out in protest.
The Melbourne Cup is run at 3,200 metres, which is just under two miles. Run on turf, it is called the most prestigious two-mile race in the world. It was originally 3,219 metres, but it was shortened after Australian went to the metric system.
In 2018, the winner was Cross Counter, and he (and his team, of course) received $4 million AUD. A total of 85% goes to the owner of the horse, then 10% to the trainer and the final 5%, to the jockey. In total, the prize money was $7.3 million AUD. The winner also receives the Melbourne Cup itself, which goes to the winning owner and is valued at $250,000 AUD.
In 1861, Archer and his winning team received 710 gold sovereigns and a gold watch. As of 2018, those 710 gold sovereigns would equate to just over $1,270 AUD.
Makybe Diva holds the record for three wins, all won from 2003 to 2005. Think Big (1974, 1975), Rain Lover (1968, 1969), Peter Pan (1932, 1934) and the aforementioned Archer (1861, 1862) all won twice.
Bobby Lewis won four editions of the Melbourne Cup, starting in 1902, and then in 1915, 1919 and 1927. Harry White matched that record with wins in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979.
The aforementioned de Mestre won five times in 1861, 1862, 1867, 1877 and 1878. He was equaled by Lee Freedman in 1989, 1992, 1995, 2004 and 2005. However, those two combined could not compete with the legendary Bart Cummings. He won his first of 12 Melbourne Cups in 1965, then in 1966 and 1967. Cummings then won in 1974, 1975, 1977 and 1979. He then went back-to-back in 1990 and 1991, then won again in 1996, 1999 and finally, in 2008.
Three different owners have won the Melbourne Cup four times. Again, de Mestre pops up with wins in 1861, 1862, 1867 and 1878. However, his first three “owner” wins were actually when he leased Archer and Tim Whiffler for his victories. John Tait won in 1866, 1868, 1871 and 1872. Dato Tan Chin Nam won in 1974, 1975, 1996 and 2008. But the record of six wins goes to Lloyd Williams. He claimed his victories in 1981, 1985, 2007, 2012, 2016 and 2017.
23% of horses that entered as the horse betting favourite to win this event, have actually gone on to win. That is 34 out of 150 winning horses in this storied event.
At 100/1, these four horses would definitely be considered longshots. However, The Pearl won in 1871, then Wotan won in 1936. Old Rowley took it in 1940 and finally, Prince of Penzance made the darkhorse bettors happy in 2015.