‘The race that stops the nation’ – that is the most common phrase associated with the Melbourne Cup. In the days leading up to the big race, and especially on the day itself, you will hear it everywhere. Locals will include the phrase in sentences so naturally it will appear as though they are horse racing experts, but that will almost certainly be wrong. But what does the Melbourne Cup really mean? Well, let’s dig a little deeper…
You really don’t need to know too much to understand exactly what the Melbourne Cup is all about. If you know the following, you’ll be just as big an expert as those who watch exactly one horse race a year (this one), which is pretty much everyone!
The race takes place at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne at 3pm on the first Tuesday of November.
The race takes roughly three minutes.
It’s a handicap race for horses three years old and over, which means different weights are allocated to each horse depending on how good they are to even up the field.
It’s the richest handicap race in the world (in 2014, total prize money was $6.4 million)
For reasons only a sports loving Victorian can understand, everyone in Metropolitan Melbourne and some rural areas of the state enjoy a public holiday for a horse race! But never fear, because those Victorian towns and cities that don’t get a public holiday usually enjoy the same privilege for their own spring carnival.
If you’ve got these facts nailed, you’re well on your way to being a bona fide Melbourne Cup aficionado.
Taking it a step further
If you want to impress a lovely young lady or a dashing gent you’ve had your eye on since you arrived at the track, here’s a little more information that will make you sound like you trained Makybe Diva to three straight Melbourne Cup victories (word of warning, they won’t be lovely or dashing by about 4pm, so use these nuggets early)!
The race record is held by Kingston Rule who recorded a time of 3:16.3 in 1990.
The winner of the first Melbourne Cup in 1861 was a horse called Archer, and the owner received £710 and a gold watch. Legend has it Archer walked from its home in Nowra (with the trainer) 800km away, for the race in 1861. Archer completed the walk and the win the following year as well!
Bart Cummings is the most successful trainer of all time with 12 Melbourne Cup wins.
Three horses have won the race at 100-1 – The Pearl (1871), Wotan (1936) and Old Rowley (1940).
The record Flemington crowd for Melbourne Cup Day is 122,736 in 2003.
That’s enough about the horses!
Race day fashions attract just as much attention as the Melbourne Cup itself, with everyone dressing in their Sunday best for the Tuesday race! ‘Fashions On The Field’ is a competition where significant prizes are awarded for the best-dressed man and woman at the Melbourne Cup, and many vie for the coveted award.
Men don suits and ties, and extras such as pocket-handkerchiefs, flowers and top hats, while the ladies wear dresses, heels and all manner of headdress. In fact, Melbourne Milliners are kept off the dole queues thanks to the Melbourne Cup, and they go all out to make the most beautiful fascinators possible. Some look like beautiful works of art, while others look a little like a guinea fowl and pelican mid-coitus!
Have a bet, everyone else does!
Picking the winner of the Melbourne Cup is difficult, and so it should be. All of the horses are fine physical specimens; and, with the handicapping system, almost any horse can win. If anyone ever says, “I’ve been given a tip on the Melbourne Cup”, run for the hills because they don’t have a clue. That is one of the attractions of the ‘race that stops the nation’ – almost every adult in Australia has a bet and everyone has a reason why their horse is going to win. There are many ways you can have a bet on Melbourne Cup Day:
- On the nose – Pick a horse and bet on it to win, it doesn’t get any simpler than that!
- Each way – You betting for your horse to win AND get a place. It’s two bets in one, so you’re covering all bases. If it wins you get more than if it comes second or third.
- Trifecta – Picking the first three horses in order.
- Exacta – Picking the first two horses in order.
- Quinella – Picking the first two horses regardless of order.
The Melbourne Cup is unpredictable for a host of reasons such as the unusual length, foreign horses with unknown qualities, a large field and the sheer weight of bets from soccer mums and computer programmers distorting the odds.
There are many ways to pick your horse for the Melbourne Cup, such as funniest name and favourite colour, as well as those just as ridiculous factors such as form, weight handicap, and the class of the jockey on its back. But whatever you do, don’t take betting advice from expert tipsters, along with James Hird and weathermen, they are the only people on Earth who can get everything wrong and still have a job the next day.
The good old office sweep
An office sweep is a group of work colleagues who all chip in the same amount each then get assigned a horse at random. Usually there are cash prizes for first, second, third and last, but every office has their own quirky rules.
For those in rural Victoria and interstate, the office sweep is also a fantastic excuse for everyone to stop what they’re doing, turn on the TV and cheer their horse home, not that Australians need too many reason for downing tools. The winner is guaranteed to brag about their win for the next week or so, while everyone else will be cursing their bad luck with insane reasons why their horse didn’t win. Just like when the Olympics roll around, everyone is all of a sudden an equine expert!
Oh, and if you’re ever involved in an office sweep and someone refuses to take part, it’s ok to subtly apply super glue to the seat of their chair, hide behind a potted plant with a video camera in hand, and film the ensuing hilarity when they get up to go home…apparently (better check with company HR).
Melbourne Cup trivia for the thrill seekers
You’ve already been given plenty of material to impress fellow racegoers and drinking buddies, but if you want to push the boat out a little further, here are a few extra Melbourne Cup facts that, if delivered confidently, could make you the toast of the party!
Jockeys in Victoria must have a blood alcohol level under 0.02!
The Victorian Racing Club has a trademark on the phrase ‘The race that stops the nation’; so if you use it for commercial purposes (um, like we have here), expect a call!
In 1972, the Melbourne Cup was reduced by 61.5 feet when Australia adopted the metric system, the two mile race became 3,200 metres instead.