1. Travel

Melbourne Cup

By

The Biggest Event in Australian Horse Racing
Racing at Melbourne's Flemington Racecourse

Melbourne Cup ... and they're racing at Flemington

© Tourism Victoria

On the first Tuesday of November each year, all Australia comes to a standstill.

It is the running of the Melbourne Cup, still Australia’s premier and richest horse race (with prizemoney of A$6 million), and Melbourne Cup fever fills the day completely.

Unless there are scratchings, 24 horses line up at the barrier at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne for the 3200-metre race which has become a national passion.

A comparable race in the United States in prominence and popularity is the Kentucky Derby run in Louisville, Kentucky, but shorter in distance (2000 metres), limited to three-year-old horses, and for less than the Melbourne Cup prizemoney.

The Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland, is also limited to three-year-olds and is run over 1900 metres.

Runners and winners

Currently, 24 horses are selected to run in the Melbourne Cup, with the final field announced after the last race on Victoria Derby Day, the Saturday before Melbourne Cup Day. Fewer than 24 runners actually race when scratchings occur.

The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861 with 17 starters. The winner’s prize at the time was 170 pounds and not a cup but a hand-beaten gold watch.

The winning horse, Archer, from its stable in the seaside town of Nowra on the New South Wales South Coast, had walked a total of 800 kilometres (500 miles) to Melbourne to be in the first Melbourne Cup race.

Among the Melbourne Cup’s most noteworthy winners have been the legendary Phar Lap who raced 51 times for 37 wins and, more recently, the supermare Makybe Diva who won the Melbourne Cup in three successive years.

Having a flutter on the Cup

The official betting agencies, known everywhere in Australia as the TAB (for Totalisator Agency Board), open early on the first Tuesday of November.

Right from opening time, and starting from the previous day even, there is a constant stream of punters coming in a for a flutter on the Melbourne Cup. Online and telephone betting are available as well.

There’s hardly anyone who doesn’t place a bet on the Melbourne Cup, and the TAB pool runs into several millions of dollars.

Betting types in Australia are similar to those in North America with some exceptions. A place bet in Australia wins when the selected horse runs first, second or third, while in North America the selected horse must place first or second. The equivalent of a place bet in Australia is the North American show bet.

The day of the Cup

Melbourne Cup Day, a public holiday in Melbourne, is a time of great festivity at the racecourse with champagne and beer in an egalitarian flow, and Cup Day costumes and hats are either of the height of fashion or of the height of weird.

For office workers this is the time to repair to the TV room to watch the Melbourne Cup race. There may be nibbles and drinks as well.

Those who make it to the TAB, or to any other Australian racecourse with a race meeting on the day, can watch the race on any number of monitors.

Reruns and postmortems

The Melbourne Cup race is over in a few minutes, but TV stations have reruns and postmortems throughout the rest of the afternoon and into the night.

Those who win in the office sweep, and at the local TAB, collect their winnings and may be prevailed upon to shout their mates a middy or two at the pub.

Melbourne Cup Day is a day of great excitement and hyperbole, and those who boast of big winnings on the Cup may be like those fishermen who talk of the size of the fish that got away.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.