The Melbourne Cup – A Brief History of the Great Race

Frederick Standish of the Victorian Turf Club is credited with having come up with the original concept for the Melbourne Cup, and he was actually the steward of the first race.

The very first running of the Melbourne Cup took place way back in 1861. Although it was called the “Melbourne Cup”, initially it was in name only, as no trophy was awarded to the winner. The prize for winning the inaugural race was a gold watch and a cash purse of 810 gold sovereigns.

Ridden by jockey John Cutts, Archer was the name of the very first race winner, first past the post in a field of 17 horses. Mormon was favorite to win the race and Archer wasn’t fancied by the bettors at all, but ended up winning by an impressive 6 lengths.

Legend has it that Archer had to travel more than 500 miles from New South Wales on foot just to take part in the race.

Sadly, 3 horses fell during this first race, two of which died.

Archer defended his championship, winning the race again the following year. Archer was to contest a third time in 1863 but was scratched from the race when the telegraphed form of acceptance arrived late due to a public holiday.

Originally the Melbourne Cup was run by the Victorian Turf Club, and was introduced in opposition to the Two Thousand Guineas race, run by its club rivals, the Victorian Jockey Club. In 1864 these two competing clubs disbanded. A new merger was formed called the Victorian Racing Club, which has been running the Melbourne Cup and controlling all racing in Victoria ever since.

 

The first-ever trophy race took place in 1865. However, the owner of the winning horse decided the trophy was too unattractive to keep, so he sold it. Later that trophy was rebranded to become known as the Flemington Hunt Club Cup.

In 1866, the very next year, the race was won by a horse called The Barb. The 1866 Melbourne Cup trophy is the oldest Cup trophy in the original condition. It now has a home in The National Museum of Australia as of 2012. Although an Australian race, the cup was actually crafted in London, England by Daniel and Charles Houle.

Also proudly showcased in The National Museum is the 1867 Melbourne Cup, which was won by jockey Tim Whiffler. The museum also houses the 1934 trophy which was won by Peter Pan.

The popularity of the Melbourne Cup rose under the rule of the VRC, and in 1877, in a bid to pack Flemington Racetrack to the rafters, the Victorian Racing Club declared Cup Day as an all-day holiday in Melbourne.

Originally the race was run on the first Thursday in November, but that changed to the current day format of the first Tuesday in 1875. It was also that same year that the Cup became a 4-day carnival, the predecessor to today’s Flemington racing carnival.

 

One of the most famous horses in Australian racing history was first past the post in the running of the 1930 Melbourne Cup. Phar Lap would go down in history as one of the world’s greatest racehorses of all time, even by today’s standards. Someone even attempted to shoot Phar Lap before his first Cup race, being the shortest-priced favorite in Cup history. Phar Lap died 2 years later in California from a mysterious illness, but his mounted hide is proudly displayed at the Melbourne Museum, his heart at The National Museum of Australia, and his skeleton is on display at the Museum of New Zealand. Such is the legend of this great horse.

Here are a few interesting statistics to come out of the Melbourne Cup over the years:

  1. Most Wins by a Jockey – Bobby Lewis 4 times and Harry White 4 times
  2. Most Wins by a Trainer – Bart Cummings with 12 wins
  3. Most Wins by a Horse – Makybe Dina with 3 wins
  4. Widest Winning Margin – Archer in 1862 by 8 lengths and Rain Lover by 8 lengths in 1968
  5. Fastest Winning Time – Kingston Rule in 1990 clocked 3:16.3
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