The Melbourne Cup is a time where horses gallop around a 3,200 metre circle and spectators have an excuse to spruce up in a suit or dress that would be considered too fancy for other occasions. Oh, and it’s a public holiday too.
So how did the Melbourne Cup become the prestigious race it is today? Between the never-ending flow of booze and people being too busy deciding whether to put on a quadrella or a trifecta, no one really talks about how one particular race on the first Tuesday in November became held in such high regard.
Though the first Cup was in 1861, it became popular in 1881 when Robert Bagot — the first secretary of the Victorian Racing Club — exploited the fact that spring was mating season and issued racing members two ladies tickets figuring: ‘where ladies went, men would follow’. Not only do men today still attend at the prospect of chatting up dolled-up girls, but they also come for the sheer excitement of which horse will make it past the finish line first.
There have been many highlights in Melbourne Cup history since then. The legendary Phar Lap needs no introduction, giving Australians who struggled through the Great Depression something to take their minds off their woes (until Phar Lap’s highly suspicious death in 1932). A modern day equivalent is definitely Makybe Diva who is the only horse to have won three Melbourne Cups, the 2002 Cup being the most talked about due to jockey Damien Oliver winning only a week after his jockey brother died.
Girl Power also affected the Melbourne Cup, which initially did not allow women to compete. It was not until 1987 when jockey Maree Lyndon became the first woman to do so. Unfortunately, she came up second last. In 2001, the Cup was won by New Zealand mare Ethereal, who was trained by Sheila Laxon, the first woman to formally train a Melbourne Cup winner.
The most well known person associated with the Cup has to be horse trainer Bart Cummings, being the trainer with the most Cup wins between 1965 and 2008 (including record holder Kingston Rule who won the 1990 Cup in only three minutes and 16.3 seconds). It is funny that everyone knows about a dead horse from the 1930s, but no one remembers the fastest horse from only 21 years ago. At 83 years of age, Bart Cummings has seen and participated in the Melbourne Cup for most of its existence.
While those are not the only major events that happened in Melbourne Cup history, they are a reminder of why one horse race demonstrates that horse racing is indeed the sport of kings, allowing everyone to have a great day (except for TAB employees).
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Monday 31 October 2011