Melbourne Cup Day – When Horse Racing stops a Country

Australia’s most famous horse racing track, Flemington is also its oldest. Originally called Melbourne Racecourse, it is the most significant heritage horse racing site in the country. There has been horse racing here since 1840, when Melbourne was just a five year old town. Initially there was horse racing only in autumn, but from 1854 the Victoria Turf Club started a spring meeting when the countryside was at its best and weather most dramatic. The VTC hosted the first Melbourne Cup in 1861as a handicap race for two miles with an attractive prize. Around this time the Melbourne Racecourse became widely known as Flemington and nothing in Australia has ever been the same since then.

The first Tuesday in November is Australia’s most famous Tuesday, Melbourne Cup Day. The entire country comes to a standstill at 3.00 pm AEST. Everyone stops whatever they are doing to listen to the race call, or watch the race on TV. Even those who do not usually bet, try their luck with this race, one of the world’s most famous horse races. Melbourne Cup Day has been declared a holiday in the city since the mid 1870s. Ever since its inception in1861 the race has been run every single year, through good times and bad. It is now ingrained in Australia’s culture.

The Melbourne Cup race is one of the world’s most challenging races, run over 3200 meters. A handicapped race, it also has one of the biggest prizes. No longer judged only on weightings, the changes in rules have ensured that with the quality handicap of recent times, superior horses are given less severe penalties than they would have received under the ealier pure handicap rules when older horses were given more weight than younger ones. Weightings are adjusted according to the horses previous perfomances. The race too has undergone changes over the past decade, the most obvious being the participation of many international horses.

The race track itself is extremely attractive and the high point or hill at Flemington has always been a natural vantage point. This land was not originally part of the racecourse. The VRC bought it over later and extended the area of the race course and constructed its largest grandstand on the hill. The History of Racing has been in traced on seven beautiful panels on the sloping interior walls of the Hill Stand. This rare work of art by the well-known Australian artist Harold Freedman depicts dozens of landscapes, scenes and portraits of horses and racing personalities from all over the world, with an emphasis on Flemington and the Melbourne Cup. The work was commissioned to mark the Australian bicentenary.

The trophy has changed in appearance over the years and since 1919 is a gold loving cup. Makybe Diva has made history by being the first horse to win the Melbourne Cup three times, consecutively in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Jockey Glen Boss has ridden Makybe Diva in all her three Melbourne Cup wins.