Quality Handicapping at the Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s most popular horse race, and one of the world’s top handicaps. The race is held every year on the first Tuesday in November by the Victoria Racing Club at Melbourne’s historic Flemington Racecourse. This highly regarded 2-mile handicap is an event of such magnitude in Australia, and in and around Melbourne especially, that race day has been designated a public holiday in the city and its environs. Attendance is regularly in excess of 100,000 with many race-goers putting on their “Sunday best” as in the manner of England’s Royal Ascot week.

The Melbourne Cup is indeed an historic race, first being run in 1861 for a prize consisting of £170 in cash and a gold watch. Seventeen horses contested the inaugural race with Archer being the winner, a feat he repeated the following year. In 1865, an actual Cup was awarded for the first time in place of the gold watch. Although the Cup changed in form and appearance over the succeeding years, the gold loving cup first awarded in 1919 has remained the standard to this day, and is worth approximately $75,000. Of course, the cash prize has also grown since 1861, with the current amount being approximately 5 million Australian dollars.

The Melbourne Cup is a handicap race, with weight being added to certain horses to equalize the field. The weighting is not purely age-weighted, although the age of the horses is taken into consideration. Rather, age along with each horses’ racing history are used to determine a fair weighting. Due to some complaints from racing purists who criticized the handicapping system for making the race too unpredictable, a revised Quality Handicapping system has been introduced lately that reduces the weight penalty on the better quality horses.

Quality handicapping has been warmly accepted, and has proven to be an even greater incentive for Australians to wager on the race. An estimated 80 percent of adult Australians did just that in 2000, the last year a survey was taken.