The Melbourne Cup – still stopping a nation
The history of the Melbourne Cup – a race that’s been stopping a nation since 1861
Melbourne Cup – the origins
In the 1860s, Victoria was experiencing the gold rush and many people had flocked to Melbourne, Bendigo and Ballarat in the hope of finding gold.
In 1861, at the first running of the Melbourne Cup, the race club committee could hardly have envisaged the Cup lasting a century and a half and growing to become a significant part of Australia’s social and sporting culture.
In front of an estimated crowd of 4,000 people, Archer became the first winner of the Melbourne Cup. Within 20 years, Cup Day itself was attracting crowds estimated at 100,000 – a remarkable figure given Melbourne’s population at that time was only 290,000.
Most notably, American writer Mark Twain wrote of his visit to the 1895 Melbourne Cup in his book Following The Equator:
“Every man and woman … who can afford the expense, put away their other duties to come. They begin to swarm in by ship and rail a fortnight before the day, and they swarm thicker and thicker day after day, until all the vehicles of transportation are taxed to their uttermost to meet the demands of the occasion, and all hotels and lodgings are bulging outward because of the pressure from within.
“They come a hundred thousand strong and they pack the spacious grounds and grandstands and make a spectacle such as is never to be seen … elsewhere.”
‘Cup fever’ continues to grip the nation each November and more recently, the word has spread about the huge prize money, world-class facilities and unique event experience offered at the Melbourne Cup Carnival with visitors flocking to Flemington from all over the world.
Melbourne Cup – the international contingent
Located 18 miles from Melbourne’s central business district, the Werribee International Horse Centre (pictured) is the home away from home for internationals competing across the Spring Racing Carnival.
Owned and operated by Racing Victoria, the centre is the only approved Post-Arrival Quarantine (PAQ) facility in Melbourne where horses can remain in full training during the Spring Racing Carnival.
The centre, which is monitored by 24-hour security, includes secure storage and implements bio-security measures in line with Australian government requirements.
The centre has three compounds which can house 32 horses in first-class facilities and operate independently from one another, thereby allowing flexibility around arrivals from different regions without disrupting another compound’s quarantine period.
Melbourne Cup – today
Lexus Melbourne Cup Day sits at the pinnacle of the Australian racing calendar and is the focal point of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. It’s an exhilarating day with a mammoth crowd that puts Australia in the international sporting spotlight.
Racehorse owners and trainers from around the world set their sights on winning the $8 million Melbourne Cup. Each year on the first Tuesday of November at 3pm (Australian EDT), 4am (GMT), top thoroughbreds and jockeys from around the world descend upon Flemington Racecourse to battle it out and cement their names in racing history.
The 3200m contest is the most celebrated prize in Australian sport and many dream of holding the 18 carat gold ABC Bullion trophy – one of the only trophies in the world still hand-spun with solid gold, sourced from Australian mines – valued at Aus$200,000.
Melbourne Cup Day is even a public holiday in its home city, while the day before the race the city streets are closed for a parade celebrating the race’s trainers and jockeys – such is the significance of the race to Melburnians.
Melbourne Cup Day is also a chance to be daring with thousands of flamboyant, colourful racegoers flocking to Flemington. Hats are an essential accessory and a yellow rose is the official flower of the day.
As the jewel in the Melbourne Cup Carnival crown, the day is a heady mix of revelry that is embraced by local and international visitors who enjoy spectacular racing, fashion and exquisite hospitality and entertainment.