Melbourne Cup

by Alan Karre Jr

The Melbourne Cup is held at the Flemington Racecourse, in the heart of Melbourne, on the first Tuesday in November every year and is the feature race of the Melbourne Spring Carnival.

The Cup itself is a 2-mile handicap race and horses from all over the world are specifically bred and set to compete for the $3 million plus winners prize money and the notoriety of winning the best stayers race in the world.

Known as the race that stops the nation, the day itself is a public holiday in most parts of the state. Everyone has a bet on the Melbourne cup whether they are regular punters or once a year bettors. The race is attended each year by over 100,000 people and betting sweeps and barbeques are held all over town on the big day.

How the Melbourne Cup field is selected :

First held way back in 1861, it has remained a 2 mile handicap race, where horses have to win entry into the race by either winning or placing in specific lead up races  and gaining “weight penalties” along the way, as they fight for a spot in the 24 horse field.

Typically, nominations are opened up  in August each year and owners pay a small entry fee to be included in the first ballot. Over 300 horses each year are nominated for the race and each are given an initial nominated weight for the race, based on their previous form, age and sex. From there, there are a number of lead up races where if a horse performs well in, they receive weight penalties and their initially allocated weight is raised.

By the time of final nominations, each owner would have paid over $50,000 in entry fee’s to have a chance to win the race.

The final field is chosen by the race handicapper and is picked using a combination of 3 main factors:

  • Final allocated weight
  • Total individual prize money earned during the previous 2 years
  • Winning or placing in specifically nominated lead up races.

(The winner of the Arlington Million in the Breeders Cup challenge for example is given an automatic place in the final field should it be nominated to compete.)

Melbourne Cup History:

As mentioned, the Melbourne Cup was first held back in 1861 and won by a famous Sydney horse by the name of Archer.

Archer was a betting outsider and won the first cup by more than 6 lengths and then subsequently won the following year by over 8 lengths, stamping his name into the record books. In 1863, Archer was controversially balloted out of the Cup on a technicality surrounding its official nomination by its trainer and the outrage  caused a storm and added to the notoriety of the race.

Over the years there has been some very famous Australian, and in more recent times international horses win the race. Horses such as Rain Lover, Peter Pan and Think Big are household names in Australia due to their success in the Melbourne Cup.

Phar Lap, probably Australia’s most famous racehorse, won in 1930 during the heart of the Great Depression.

Phar Lap had taken all before him, winning 21 races in Australia and then traveling to the America’s where he won in record time in Mexico before traveling to the States, where he died controversially before racing in America. Mystery surrounds Phar Laps’ death to this day and many believed he was poisoned before being able to race in America. Phar Lap was stuffed and can be seen at the Melbourne Museum where he is on display. His heart, twice the size of a normal racehorses heart is also on display in a canister in the Canberra Museum.

In recent years, Makybe Diva became the Cups Queen, becoming the first horse to win the cup 3 times, winning in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Owned by an Aussie tuna fisherman with a big mullet in Tony Santic and named after some of his office workers, Makybe Diva became the people’s champion and thousands would flock to the course to see her run.

The Melbourne Cup cannot be mentioned without the name of the man known as the “Cups King”, Bart Cummings being front and square in discussion. Bart has trained the winner of the cup an amazing 12 times (the next best is 5) over a training career spanning more than 50 years. His first win was back in the mid 60’s and his latest winner was Viewed in 2008.

The past decade has seen an invasion of international horses compete and win the Cup, with winners coming from Japan, France, and the UK in recent years as the race takes centre stage as the world’s premier handicap distance race.

2012 Melbourne Cup:

This years cup will take place on Tuesday 6th November. The past 2 years winners, Dunaden and Americain are back again to race as are a number of overseas challengers including one of the current early favorites in  Mount Athos, trained by the famous European Trainer Lucas Cumani who is back again this year after twice finishing 2nd in 2007 and 2008.

The local brigade is headed up by Green Moon, last years runner up in the Caulfield Cup, but with the Spring Carnival about to begin, the race is a wide open affair at this stage as the nominated horses begin to come back to the race track in preparation for the big race.