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The Race that Stops a Nation – what makes the Melbourne Cup so special?
 By mosquito   •   8th Sep 2010   •   6,290 views   •   4 comments
Every country has a big horse race – the Kentucky Derby, the Arc de Triomphe, the Epsom Derby. But there’s something about Australia’s showcase race – the Melbourne Cup – that really stands out. Like the Arc – but not the Epsom or Kentucky Derbies – the Melboune Cup pits 3 year olds against older horses, bring the best of the nation together. In fact, it attracts the best horses from around the world.

Melbourne Cup

So what makes it different? One is its distance. At 2 miles, it’s much longer than most other big classic races, so it’s a real test of speed and stamina. And, it’s a handicap. That means the stewards try to adjust the weight each horse carries according to its ability to try and give horse an equal chance – that makes it a lot of fun for betters.

It’s an old race too. First run in 1861, it may not be quite as old as some of the classic derbies, but it comes pretty close. The date is even more remarkable when you consider that in 1861 much of Australia was still a rugged frontier, and travel around the country was difficult. Today, horses come from all over the world to be among the 24 starters each year. Some horses get an automatic entry into the race including winners of big stakes and handicaps form other countries. Ireland’s St. Leger winner, America’s winner of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, and England’s Doncaster Handicap winner are automatically qualified – interestingly the derby winners in these countries don’t qualify! That’s because they are looking for the toughest, strongest, horses with the greatest stamina to take part in Melbourne!

For horses that race in these big handicap races, the Melbourne Cup has attractive prize money. Over 6 million Australian dollars will be handed out, but most owners and trainers are really after the prestige of a Melbourne Cup win, and their names - and their horse’s name – going down in history with some of the greatest racehorses of all time. It’s hard for foreign horses to win the Cup – there’s been a recent winner from Japan and from Ireland, and a few from New Zealand, but the Melbourne Cup has traditionally belonged to Australian-trained horses. To keep foreign interest up and attract the best horses, each year a replica of the winner’s trophy goes on a ‘world tour’, visiting Japan, the United States, and the Middle East. The real trophy doesn’t travel because it is worth over $100,000!

The first Melbourne Cup winner was a big bay horse called Archer. It was quite a race too. Of the seventeen starters, one took off before the start, three fell during the race, and two of those fallers sadly died. Archer took advantage of the others’ misfortune, and won even though he was a long shot. Archer wasn’t a local horse – he’d traveled by steamboat over 50 miles from New South Wales - and the idea that a winner could take the prize home to another state started the excitement over the Cup that would last until today.

Briesis was the first filly to win, in 1876. Her win was even more remarkable considering her rider, Peter St. Albans, was only twelve years old at the time, as she won two other major races – as well as the Melbourne Cup - in less than a week! Not to take anything away from Briesis’s victory but once again the Cup produced big news. Two months before, two Cup contenders were killed when the ship they were traveling on sank in a storm.

One of the most famous Melbourne Cup winners was the famous Phar Lap. The 1930 winner, he was such a short price favorite that he was the victim of an assassination attempt before the race and had to be kept in hiding until race day.

Melbourne Cup

It’s quite a feat to win the Melbourne Cup more than once. Archer won the first two runnings, but then they were thin on the ground. It took 70 years before Peter Pan won it twice in the 1930s, then it wasn’t until Rain Lover in the 1960s that a horse won it twice again. Archer might have been the only horse to win it three times, but he was scratched by the stewards on a technicality – many believed it was a conspiracy and other trainers withdrew their horses in protest leaving only seven starters in the third running of the Cup. Right from the start, the Melbourne Cup was always good for a story!

The Melbourne Cup did eventually get a three-time winner, Makybe Diva, who won in 2003, 04, and 05. She didn’t win her first, cup until she was 5 years old. Believe it or not, as a weanling in England she failed to make her reserve price at auction! The Diva is honored now by a brightly colored statue in Melbourne. While a mare may hold the crown of the Cup’s winningest horse, female trainers haven’t had it so easy. The first female trainer to win the Cup was Mrs Allan MacDonald, who trained Catalogue to win in 1938. Women weren’t allowed to train back then, so the official trainer of the horse was her husband. A woman trainer wouldn’t win the Cup officially until 2001, when Sheila Laxon won it with Ethereal.


If you want to see the Melbourne Cup, it’s held the first Tuesday in November at the Flemington racecourse in Melbourne. Don’t worry that it’s a Tuesday – Melbourne Cup day is an official holiday in Australia. But you’ll have to plan early – everybody wants to be there, and over 100,000 people will be!

Horse News More In This Category:  Horse Stories      Horse News More From This Author:  mosquito
Valkyrie   MOD 
Alot more New Zealand horses than "just a few" have won it. There have been loads. I am a New Zealander, so I follow my country's fortunes in this great race avidly. Interestingly, Phar Lap was New Zealand bred. World famous Cambridge Stud has also bred winners of it in the last thirty years or so.
  Sep 8, 2010  •  3,909 views
 
halfbrokehorses  
at school they let us watch it when its on. last year all us kids (i think it was all of us ) from our sub school area were all bundled in a group watching it off our tv.
:) it definately is big over here in oz
  Sep 9, 2010  •  3,941 views
 
Mystic Magic  
I love this article and finding out how it all came about. I am form Australia and live only 1 hour 30 minutes form Melbourne, I love watching the race. It is a very fascinating race though how they put the weights on the horses to even out their chances based on their wins and ability and it is a very long race!
  Sep 9, 2010  •  4,024 views
 
Valkyrie   MOD 
Forgot to add before:

Go the Diva!
  Sep 10, 2010  •  3,910 views
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