As the racing world puts behind another Melbourne Cup, it’s worth tracing the history of one of the greatest events in the Australian sports calendar. As ever, a great opportunity to unwind with friends and family at a sporting occasion to remember whether you back a winner or not!
The First Melbourne Cup
The first Cup was held way back in 1861, at Flemington Racecourse, which was little more than a simple race circuit at the time. The first winner of the 3218 metre or 2 mile race (shortened to 3200 in 1972) was Archer, who also won the following year. This feat was not repeated until Rain Lover won in both 1968 and 1969. Since then there has been no shortage of drama and sporting excellence on show at the annual event.
The third race featured just 7 starters after Archer’s entry form arrived late due to a public holiday delaying a telegram. Several other trainers pulled their horses in protest. Other controversial moments include the deaths of 11 horses on route to Melbourne on the ‘City of Melbourne’ ship, which hit stormy weather. Some callous bookkeepers rewarded the ship’s captain with a cash gift, as they felt they’d saved money due to the deaths of several race favourites on board. In 1930, an attempt was made to shoot the favourite ‘Phar Lap’, who had such short odds (11/8) and was so sure to win that he presented a real threat to the bookies. In the end he went on to win the race after spending the lead up in hiding!
Along with sporting highs and lows over the ages, the fortunes of the event have grown, with the gold rush providing a class of newly rich working class punters who attended the event along with socialites and politicians. Accordingly, the event took on a truly Australian character, drawing people from across the country. By 1880 the public had swelled to 100 000 travellers from across Australia (compared to a public of just 4000 for the first Melbourne Cup). The event has become so important that it is it is a public holiday in Melbourne and attendees dress in brightly coloured hats and dresses, much like at Ascot, in the UK.
The track itself quickly advanced over time with facilities being added year on year, making for a great party atmosphere full of food, drink and some of the best Thoroughbred racing in the world. The quality of racing has been helped in no small way by some top class racing trainers, including Bart Cummings, who has won a total of 12 cups! The horse who has won the most cups is Makybe Diva who won a third race in 2005, whilst the fastest win was Kingston Rule’s thundering record of 3 minutes and 16.3 seconds in 1990.