Melbourne Cup Day: The Race that Stops a Nation

Its trademark slogan sums it up. The Melbourne Cup really is “the race that stops a nation”. Australia’s premier horse racing event, this is one fixture that no one wants to miss. Held in Flemington on the first Tuesday in November, Melbourne Cup Day has been a public holiday in Victoria since 1877.

Melbourne Cup Day: The Race that Stops a Nation 1889 Melbourne Cup
1889 Melbourne Cup: Photo on Flickr by State Library Victoria Collection / CC BY 2.0

Melbourne Cup Day: The Race that Stops a Nation

Nothing gets in the way of Melbourne and its Cup. Neither World War managed to scupper the race, though from 1942 to 1944 the race was switched to a Saturday. Rain has led to its postponement on a couple of occasions, but never to its cancellation. The event is big business. Drawing an estimated 26,000 international and inter-state visitors and injecting something like $155 million into the local economy, Melbourne really couldn’t imagine life without it.

Melbourne Cup Day: The Race that Stops a Nation 1908
Melbourne Cup Day 1908: Photo on Flickr by Aussie mobs / CC BY 2.0

While the atmosphere in Melbourne during Cup Week is worth travelling halfway across the world for, Melbourne Cup Day is the day when everyone wants to join in. 100,000 people attend Flemington Racecourse which pales into insignificance against the estimated 650 million people worldwide who watch it on TV or via the internet. Melbourne Cup Day the highlight of Melbourne’s social calendar and race goers’ fashion hits and misses are scrutinised on social media.

Melbourne Cup Day: The Race that Stops a Nation 2015 Michelle Payne First Female Winner Prince of Penzance Melbourne Cup
Michelle Payne, 1st Female Winner of Melbourne Cup on Prinze of Penzance in 2015: Photo on Flickr by Chris Phutully / CC BY 2.0

Placing a Bet

Sweepstakes are commonplace – seemingly every workplace and bar has one. Here’s a tip for those of you planning to place a bet: don’t back the horse that runs from stall 18 as no horse from that right hand placement has won since barriers were introduced in 1924. It’s probably wise to steer clear of backing a grey, too; only six of the winners have been a grey horse. William Hill was where, in 2016, the best Melbourne Cup betting odds could have been found.

Melbourne Cup Day: The Race that Stops a Nation Red Cadeaux 2013 Melbourne Cup
Red Cadeaux 2013 Melbourne Cup: Photo on Flickr by Henry Ruuskanen / CC BY 2.0

The Story of Archer, the Melbourne Cup’s First Winner

The Melbourne Cup has come a long way since the first race back in 1861. Watched by a crowd of just 4000 people, Archer took the top spot that historic Thursday, beating a field of sixteen other thoroughbreds. A remarkable horse, he won a second race the following day (and the Melbourne Cup again the following year) but the story of how he walked 800km to the course from Nowra in New South Wales is just that – a story. In fact, he came by steamship, as was the norm in those days.

Phar Lap: Australia’s Wonder Horse

The 1930 winner, Phar Lap, was nicknamed “Australia’s Wonder Horse” even though he actually foaled in New Zealand. To be fair on his adopted home, he was trained and ridden for much of his life in Oz. He dominated the racing scene for several years but tragically died in 1932. Scandalous gossip at the time claimed he’s been poisoned but later it was found that he’d succumbed to an acute and deadly form of bacterial gastroenteritis. An autopsy also found that his heart weighed a whopping 6.2kg, compared to a typical weight of just 3.2kg for a horse’s heart. It’s on display at the National Museum of Australia though some claim what you see there is a fake.

Melbourne Cup Day: The Race that Stops a Nation Winner Phar Lap
Phar Lap winner of Melbourne Cup Double: Photo on Flickr by Andrew / CC BY 2.0

So, you see, the Melbourne Cup Day is more than just a horse race. It’s the stuff of legend.

About Richard Wolskel

Hi! I’m Richard Wolskel… travel expert, writer and founder of the Go4 brand of companies, offering car rental, motorhome rental, cruise holidays, accommodation and tours. I’ve been in the travel industry since 1984 and I’m still as passionate as ever about this ever-changing industry, and love the unlimited travel opportunities and connecting with like-minded travellers and travel bloggers. Through my blog and associated booking sites, I share valuable info and tips about fantastic destinations to visit, quirky restaurants, awesome road trips, must-do tours and general things to do in the many beautiful cities, towns and villages around the world. I share my thoughts, travel news and new content on my Twitter profile as well as answer questions as a Quora travel expert. Follow me to keep in touch! I also work with other travel bloggers so if you have a guest post to share, get in touch and maybe we can work together? In the meantime, checkout some of my articles on this site or checkout my Complete Guide To Car Hire where I reveal everything there is to know about car hire if you’re planning an epic road trip! Thanks for stopping by and feel free to get in touch if you have a question or comment.

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