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The Melbourne Cup, a race that stops a nation. The world’s richest two-mile flat handicap contested at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria sees Australia come to a standstill as their most prestigious thoroughbred horse race takes to centre stage. Hosted on the first Tuesday of November, the Melbourne Cup has become a public holiday and celebration of the country’s great racing history. 
Founded in 1861, the very first Melbourne Cup was contested for a winning prize of £720 along with a hand beaten gold watch. Seventeen horses when to post in front of 4,000 people for the first running of the race which saw a horse by the name of Archer storm to victory.

Since then, the Melbourne Cup has grown into an unparalleled experience for the Flemington racegoer. The fantastic mix of thrilling racing, outstanding fashion and an exciting social scene makes for one of the best race-days in the sport’s calendar. The track’s capacity of over 100,000 ensures the Melbourne Cup is one of Australia’s biggest spectator events of the year.

melbourne cup runners

Racehorses from across the world descend upon Melbourne each November in search of a share of the ever-increasing $6.2million Melbourne Cup prize-fund. A total of 12 races from Australia, UK, Ireland, Japan and America act as ‘win and you’re in’ qualifying heats for the race, as well as a horse’s earnings in the two years building up to the contest.

A limited field of 24 are declared for the Melbourne Cup in which each runner is given a rating based on their form by the Australian handicapper. This then allocates a suitable weight for each horse in order to ensure a level playing field for all. The top-weight that a runner can carry in the valuable two-mile handicap is no less than 57kg with the mares receiving a 2kg allowance. 

International runners, outside of Australia and New Zealand, are required to undergo a period of 14 days in quarantine before making the trip to Melbourne for their prestigious meeting. This prevents horses from becoming infected with a disease or catching something contagious in preparation for such a big occasion.

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The test that the Melbourne Cup represents is very unique to anything else in the flat racing calendar. A horse must possess the necessary, stamina and speed to execute the right tactics in winning the world’s richest handicap. The race distance may be two-miles but it is crucial the successor can implement a change of speed inside the home straight. For long the Melbourne Cup was deemed a contest for the stayers, however, in recent years the emphasis has been placed much more on tactical pace and a sharp turn of foot.

Flemington’s track offers a fair race for each horse although the consensus on the draw continues to strengthen year on year. Racing from stall 12 or lower is seen as an advantage as it vital to securing a prominent position from the start. The nature of Flemington’s course can find those drawn high in a Melbourne Cup force to travel wide throughout and therefore cover more ground which can affect their winning claims.

The victory of Protectionist in 2014 under British jockey Ryan Moore showcased the perfect ride and importance of luck in-running during a Melbourne Cup. The four-year old was waited with at the rear under Moore before successfully guiding his way through a wall of horses inside the home straight to score by four-lengths. The winner made up substantial ground inside the closing stages thanks to a frantic early pace set by the front-runners. It is this that sets the Melbourne Cup apart from anything else in the racing calendar. A field of 24 world class thoroughbreds doing battle over a unique two-miles is unlike any race all year. 

Melbourne Cup Expert Tips

Find out selections for all the key races at this year's Spring Carnival, including the Melbourne Cup.

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melbourne cup day

However, it is not just fantastic horse racing that makes Melbourne Cup day a special occasion. It is the incredible exhibition of fashion and the superb social environment that makes Australia’s biggest race-day an experience like no other.

Tens of thousands of people not only from Australia and New Zealand but across the globe descend upon Flemington in November to witness a great celebration of racing and fashion. The occasion is renowned for its focus on the appearance of both men and women with numerous lucrative prizes for the best dressed available all day. The off course fashion can attract more attention than the big race itself as attendees dress to impress under the glorious Melbourne sunshine.


Flemington is also the setting for a whole host of major celebrity and sporting profiles from across Australia and New Zealand. Some of world’s biggest figures from all backgrounds seek to get a taste of the exclusive experience that the Melbourne Cup represents, making it a race day in which the general public can rub shoulders with some of their heroes.

Not only is it a grand occasion for horse racing and Australia’s history but it is a major day for the bookmaking industry too. According to a report by a betting agency in 2000, 80% of the Australian adult population placed a bet on the Melbourne Cup that year. In New Zealand, the Flemington highlight is the single biggest betting event of the year and is regularly held at some of the country’s biggest horse racing tracks as the population seeks to witness the great phenomenon in a social capacity.

The Melbourne Cup is truly a race that not only captures the imagination of the public but always brings a nation to a standstill.

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