The Melbourne Cup is one of the most important events on the Australian calendar and it is affectionately known as the race that stops the nation. From humble beginnings it has risen to become the most watched sporting event in Australia and has garnered international acclaim as the greatest 3200 meter handicap horse race anywhere in the world. Since beginning in 1861 with a small crowd of 4000 it now attracts an international audience as well as global horses coming to try for success and substantial race winnings.
Initially it only attracted around 4000 spectators, but now hundreds of thousands come to the Flemington Racetrack, where it is held, to watch the race and millions more view it on their televisions. Flemington is located only 15 minutes from the Melbourne central business district and it is now known as much for the fashions on the field as it is for the horses.
AT first the cup was run on a Thursday, but it was changed to a Tuesday in 1875 and has been run on that day ever since. The race is always held on the first Tuesday in November. By the time that the day of the race was changed the annual crowds turning up to Flemington were exceeding 100,000 an amazing number considering that the population of Melbourne at that time was a mere 300,000.
At the close of the 19th century Australia suffered a huge economic crisis and more than a third of people were out of the workforce and unemployed. As an indication of the hard financial times there was no cup trophy presented between the years of 1894 and 1898.
When the 20th century arrived it came with renewed economic vigor and confidence which would last until World War I arrived in 1914. It was in 1906 that the Melbourne Cup was won by one of the most famous winners Poseidon, the only horse to win the cup, the Caulfield Cup, AJC and VRC Derby in the one racing season. This was a feat that set the racing world alight and attracted big crowds to the race tracks.
When 1930 came Phar Lap was already becoming increasingly famous and judged to be the world’s greatest race horse. When the Melbourne Cup was run that year the world was in the grip of one of the worst economic depressions and Australians pinned all their hopes and money on this horse. It had to shortest odds that were ever placed on a cup horse and it showed they were deserved when it won convincingly to race into the hearts of Australians. Unfortunately the horse’s winning streak came to an abrupt end when it died in suspicious circumstances in 1932.
In 1946 the photo finish was introduced to the race and was needed in 1948 to decide the winner Ray Neville a 15 year old jockey with only nine previous rides up his sleeve.
The Melbourne Cup has over its long history become an important element of Australian culture and it is looked forward to by masses of sporting and fashion fans each year.