11+ Things You Didn’t Know About The Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup is one of the biggest, most prestigious races in the whole world. It draws punters, horses, jockeys and trainers from all over the world, and it maintains a strong place in the hearts of all who are involved in the racing world.

There are a great many fun and exciting facts about the Melbourne Cup that you may not know, so here are a few for you to impress your friends with.

The Melbourne Cup Interesting Facts

1. The first race was held in 1861, giving it a long history

The first winning horse, Archer, collected 710 gold sovereigns, and a gold watch for his triumph. The winnings are considerably more these days, even accounting for inflation – but what use is a gold watch to a horse?

Archer’s winning time is the slowest winning time on record, at 3 minutes 52 seconds. Every horse since has beaten his record – but he still holds prestige by being the first ever winner.

2. The race is only for horses of three years and older

Many races are run by younger horses, but this one is for the slightly older types.

300 to 400 horses are nominated for entry each year, but the field is limited to 24. This is for safety reasons, to make sure that there is no overcrowding or jostling.

3. Only five horses have ever won the Cup more than once

It was Archer (1861 and 1862), Peter Pan (1932 and 1934), Rain Lover (1968 and 1969), and Think Big (1974 and 1975). Makybe Diva was the first mare to win two Cups, and is still the only horse to have ever won it three times; in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Kingston Rule, who won the race in 1993, still holds the current speed record even today, at 3 minutes 16 seconds. This horse was sired by Secretariat, another wildly famous racehorse.

4. The Melbourne Cup used to be longer

The Melbourne Cup used to be over 2 miles (3.219km) but was shortened to 3,200 metres (1.988mi) in 1972, when Australia adopted the metric system.

5. Youngest and oldest winners

The youngest jockey to ever win the race was Peter St Albans, riding Briseis in 1876. Peter was just 12 years, 11 months and 23 days when he recorded this victory.

The oldest horses to win the Cup were Toryboy in 1865, and Catalogue in 1938 – they were both 8 years old at the time of winning. No older horse has won it since this time.

A three year old hasn’t won the race since Skipton, in 1941. Technically, another horse, Cross Counter, was also a three year old when he won it in 2018, but was considered four in the Southern hemisphere.

6. There are some famous female jockeys and trainers too

The first female jockey to ride a winner in the Cup was Michelle Payne, riding Prince Of Penzance.

The first woman to ride in the Melbourne Cup was Maree Lyndon, who rode in in 1987 on Argonaut Style. She finished second to last in the 21 horse field – but retains prestige in being the first woman to race in the Cup.

The first woman trainer to officially win a Melbourne Cup was Shelia Laxon, in 2001. The 1938 winning horse, Catalogue, was trained by Mrs Allan McDonald, but at the time women were not allowed to compete as trainers in Australia so her husband’s name was officially recorded as the winning trainer.

7. Only Southern hemisphere trained horses used to win this race

The first Northern hemisphere trained horse did not win until 1993. Vintage Crop is credited with putting the Melbourne Cup on the world map and making the race more accessible to the international racing community.

Any international horse entering the race, excluding those from New Zealand, have to undergo a minimum of 14 days quarantine in their own country on an approved premises before travelling to Australia.

8. This is a very popular race indeed

This is a very popular race, with over 110,000 people attending. Some dress in traditional race day clothing, while others dress up in all sorts of strange and amusing costumes.

“Fashions On The Field” is a major focus, as often race day fashion draws as much attention as the actual racing. There are substantial prizes for the best dressed man and woman, and the demand for hats almost single handedly keeps Melbourne’s milliners in business!

In 1965, British model Jean Shrimpton stunned the world by wearing a miniskirt to the Derby Day, three days before the Cup. She also wore no hat, gloves or stockings, in a shocking deviation from traditional race day dress.

9. This is the richest “two mile” handicap in the world

The 1985 Cup, won by What A Nuisance, was the first race run in Australia with a prize fun over $1 million. The winner’s pot has climbed steadily ever since.

The Melbourne Cup is the richest “two mile” handicap in the world, and is one of the richest turf races. The prize money for the winner of the 2019 race stood at $8,000,000.

10. Flowers are a big part of this race

Flowers are a big part of this race, with each race at Flemington being assigned its own particular bloom – the Melbourne Cup’s is the yellow rose.

11. And more…

Trainer Bart Cummings hold the title of “Cups King” as he holds a record 12 Melbourne Cup wins. He won his first cup aged just 23.

The Cup was first run on a Tuesday, way back in 1861, and it has been held on the first Tuesday in November ever since 1875.

In 2000 it was estimated that around 80% of the adult Australian population place bets on the race each year.

Final Words

The Melbourne Cup is a big deal in the racing calendar, for the horses, trainers, owners and jockeys, as well as those who stand to make money on the race – the bookies and the punters. As well as being a big money event, this race is also a firm favorite in the hearts of Australians – many of whom receive the Cup day as a public holiday!

It is billed as “the race that stops a nation” (based on a poem written about the Cup by Vivienne McCredie in 1986) and it definitely does that.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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