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Melbourne Cup Guide: History, Facts, Stats & Common FAQs Answered

Melbourne Cup Guide: History, Facts, Stats & Common FAQs Answered

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Every year, the Melbourne Cup attracts thousands of spectators. As Australia’s biggest horse race, it has gained the nickname “the race that stops the nation.”

The Melbourne Cup takes place at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. It happens on the first Tuesday of November as part of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. The race is 3,200 meters long and has a whopping purse of $7,750,000.

The first Melbourne Cup took place in 1861, making this year’s race the 160th anniversary. The race includes some of the best Thoroughbred horses from around the world. As an iconic event, it attracts visitors from all over Australia and even the world.

History of the Melbourne Cup

Included in our list of the most famous horse races, the Melbourne Cup has become a true Australian institution. From its humble beginnings, it is now one of the most prestigious horse races in the world.

The Melbourne Cup owes its origin to Frederick Standish. Standish, who was a member of the Victorian Turf Club, came up with the idea of the race and its name.

The very first Melbourne Cup took place on November 7, 1861. Seventeen horses faced off for 710 gold sovereigns cash along with a hand-beaten gold watch. A bay stallion by the name of Archer, ridden by John Cutts, took home the first win in front of a crowd of 4,000. Archer went on to win the cup again in 1862.

The inaugural race was nothing short of chaotic. One horse bolted before the start, three horses fell, two of which sadly died and Archer defeated Victorian champion, Mormon, creating a new rivalry.

Originally, the race was over two miles long. However, in 1972 when Australia made the change to the metric system, so it was shortened to 3,200 meters.

In 1877, the race was declared a public holiday. Today, it is still a public holiday for those working within metropolitan Melbourne and even some parts of regional Victoria.

The Melbourne Cup not only attracts spectators from around the world, but also horses. It is an ultimate test of stamina, as horses must have both endurance and speed.

Melbroune Cup race finish line
Kaspars Grinvalds /

The Melbourne Cup Carnival

The Melbourne Cup is the crowning jewel of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. It showcases the best of racing, entertainment, fashion, culture, food and wine.

The carnival has four days of racing which consists of the Victoria Cup day, Melbourne Cup day, VRC Oaks day and Mackinnon Stakes day. The atmosphere is unlike any other sporting event in Australia, as racegoers sport their finest Sunday clothes.

Fashion is a huge part of the carnival. It is a pinnacle in Australia’s fashion calendar, as it is home to the men’s and women’s National Competition. From elegant dresses to sharp suits and extravagant hats, the fashion at the carnival is truly iconic.

In addition to world-class horses and fashion, the carnival also has fine dining and a lively atmosphere. Every year, around 100,000 visitors will congregate at the carnival across the four days of festivities.

Fast Facts About the Melbourne Cup

With a long history, the Melbourne Cup is full of unique and interesting facts. The race has seen some of the most incredible horses in the world.

Fastest Time

The fastest Melbourne Cup time is held by Kingston Rule, who won with a time of 3:16.3. He set the record in 1990 with jockey Darren Beadman. The second-fastest time belongs to Media Puzzle, who in 2002 finished with a time of 3:16.97.

Largest Margin

In just the second-ever Melbourne Cup, Archer set the record for the largest margin, winning by eight lengths. The stunning stallion set the record in 1862 and it is yet to be beaten.

First Female Jockey to Win

Michelle Payne is the first and only female jockey to ever win the Melbourne Cup. Payne won with Prince of Penzance in 2015. Her historic win has been documented in a feature film, Ride Like a Girl. Also, read our Michelle Payne facts guide here.

Most Wins

Makybe Diva holds the title for the most Melbourne Cup wins. The beautiful bay mare won in 2003, 2004 and 2005. She is the only mare to win the coveted race more than once.

Youngest Jockey to Ever Win

Peter St Albans is the youngest jockey ever to win the Melbourne Cup at just 11 years old. He won in 1876 while riding Briseis. Though he won at age 11, he was recorded to be 13 as that is the official age requirement.

Largest Attendance

Year after year, the Melbourne Cup draws in large crowds. The largest attendance was in 2003 when 122,737 people attended.

Largest Race

In 1890, the Melbourne Cup had 39 horses race, the most in history. The smallest field was in 1863 when just seven horses raced.


Why is the Melbourne Cup Always on a Tuesday?

In 1875, the Melbourne Cup was moved to Tuesday, September 9, in honor of the birthday of the Prince of Wales. It then became a public holiday and continues to take place the first Tuesday of September.

How Many Melbourne Cups Did Phar Lap Win?

Phar Lap is one of the most famous and successful racehorses to ever live. He ran in the Melbourne Cup three times, but won just once in 1930. In 1929, he finished third and in 1931 he finished eighth.

Also, read 10 interesting facts about Phar Lap.

What Time Does the Melbourne Cup Take Place?

The Melbourne Cup takes place at 3 p.m.

Who Won the 2020 Melbourne Cup?

Twilight Payment won the 2020 Melbourne Cup. The Irish-bred bay gelding was born on May 6, 2013. He was ridden by Jye McNeil and trained by Joseph O’Brien.

How Many Races Take Place on Melbourne Cup Day?

There are 10 places that take place on Melbourne Cup Day. The races are the Maribyrnong Plate, Desirable Stakes, Super Vobis 3-Y-O Plate, The Macca’s Run, Tab Trophy Stakes, Grinders Coffee Rosters Trophy, Lexus Melbourne Cup, Melbourne Cup Day Plate (Furphy Plate), Hong Kong Jockey Club Stakes and MSS Security Sprint. The Melbourne Cup is seventh in the lineup and is the longest of all the races that day, as well as the most famous.

Also read, 15 intersting horse racing facts. Don’t forget to check out our other interesting horse racing guides here.