History of the Melbourne Cup
The race was first run in 1861, and the idea of the race was credited to Frederick Standish, a member of the Victorian Turf Club, who also suggested that it should be called the "Melbourne Cup". Seventeen horses entered the inaugural race, for the prize of 710 gold sovereigns and a hand beaten gold watch. The winner of the race was Archer, a bay stallion ridden by John Cutts and trained by Etienne de Mestre. The race was watched by a crowd of 4,000 and it was not without controversy. One horse ran away before the start of the race and three of the starters fell during the race, of which two died. Archer, a Sydney based horse, beat the local favourite and Victorian champion Mormon by six lengths. The horse was a longshot and the following day went on to win the Melbourne Town Plate.
The following year, Archer returned to the Melbourne Cup and won again, beating a field of 20 starters by eight lengths, a record that stands to this day. By the second race, 7,000 spectators had turned up to watch the event. Archer unfortunately could not compete again in the third year of the competition because his entry was confirmed too late. A number of sympathetic horse owners took their horses out of the race to stand in solidarity with Archer and his trainer, and as a result only 7 horses competed in the race that year.
By 1865, the Melbourne Cup had become such a popular event for the city, that the day was declared a half holiday in Melbourne. It was not until 1873 that the day was declared by the Victoria Government Gazette as a bank and public holiday.
In 1876, a filly called Briseis, owned and trained by James Wilson Snr, set a record that will probably never be broken. She won the VRC Derby, the Melbourne Cup and the VRC Oaks all in a mere six days. She was ridden by jockey Peter St Albans, who was only 12 years old at the time, becoming the youngest person to ever win a Melbourne Cup. This race was the 15th edition of the Melbourne Cup, and was watched by a crowd of 75,000, almost 20 times the size of the crowd that gathered 15 years prior. The race was also controversial because there were an additional 11 horses who were set to race and were transported to Melbourne by ship, but tragically died when the ship hit a treacherous storm. The bookies at the time did not return the money that they had collected from the punters, instead giving the captain of the ship a purse as a token of appreciation because they would not have to pay out any returns to punters who bet on any of the horses that died. Though the outcome may have been slightly different, it is worth noting that Briseis won by 1 length against what was the biggest field at the time, so even if the horses did make it to the race, there is a good chance she would have won anyway.
In 1877, Chester won the Melbourne Cup, and gave trainer Etienne de Mestre his fourth win. Calamia, another horse trained by de Mestre, won the following year, making him the most successful trainer in the history of the competition, and setting a record that would last for another 100 years.
For the rest of the 19th century and early 20th century, the race only became more popular, with fields in the thirties and twenties, and only very rarely fields with under twenty entries. The races became such a staple in Melbourne that in 1930, the favourite Phar Lap, who had the shortest odds at 11/8, had to be hidden before the race due to an attempt that was made to shoot him. Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup and became one of the most famous horses around the world.
Phar Lap entered the race the following year, but was given a weight of 10 stone 10 pounds, or 68 kilos, the heaviest weight ever given to a horse in the race. He went on to finish in 8th place. In 1941, Skipton, a 3 year old horse, won the race. Skipton became the youngest horse to win but this resulted in the governing body changing the rules so that less 3 year olds would run.
During the war, the Melbourne Cup was still run to keep morale high, but it was run during Saturdays so that it would not interfere with the war effort. 1948 saw the first time that a camera was installed at the track to allow for a photo finish. Rimfire beat Dark Marne in that race, but many officials thought that the decision should be reversed, as the camera had not been aligned correctly with the finishing line.
12 years later, in 1960, the Melbourne Cup was broadcast on television for the first time. The broadcast was available in Sydney, to help increase the popularity of the race in the city. It would take another 18 years before the race was televised to residents of Victoria, through the ATV-0.
1962 saw the first "Fashions on the Field" at the carnival. This competition was to encourage people to not only wear the dress code but to get creative with their clothing and try to put together fashionable, glamorous outfits.
In 1972, the Melbourne Cup went through the biggest change in its history. The length of the race was adjusted to the metric system, so it was run over the distance of 1,600 metres instead of 2 miles. This meant that the race became 18.75 metres shorter, and as a result the times run in the races before 1972 could not be compared with the times set after.
In 1985, the Melbourne Cup was sponsored, and was given the highest purse at the time of $1 million, with $650,000 in prize money awarded to the winner of the race.
The race continued to open up in the following years, with Maree Lyndon becoming the first ever female jockey to ride in the competition in 1987. 1993 saw the first horse from the northern hemisphere to win the Melbourne Cup, with Irish gelding Vintage Crop winning the race. Sheila Laxon became the first woman trainer to officially win the Melbourne Cup in 2001, although Mrs. A. McDonald was the first woman trainer to win in 1938, but could not be registered because of the laws at the time. Mrs. McDonald also owned the horse, so she was the first female trainer and owner to win the race.
In 2005, Makybe Diva became the first and only horse to ever win the race a record 3 times. Bart Cummings, arguably the most successful Australian trainer, won his 12th win at the Melbourne Cup with Viewed in 2008. This record was more than double that of the 19th century legendary trainer Etienne de Mestre.
In 2010, on the 150th anniversary of the Melbourne Cup, Americain won the race and became the first French trained horse to win, with Gerald Mosse, the first French jockey. In 2012, Irish horse Green Moon won the race, and the following six best placing horses were all Irish too, beating the local horses to the top seven places for the first time in the history of the race.
Michelle Payne won the cup in 2015 and became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. She had an odds of 100-1 at the start of the race and managed to beat the odds and win with New Zealand horse Prince of Penzance.
In 2016, owner Llyod Williams became the first owner to win with 5 different horses, and jockey Kerrin McEvoy won his second Melbourne Cup after a record long 16 years. The following year, 3 year old Rekindling won the cup, becoming the second ever three year old to win, after Skipton in 1941.