With April upon us, the world of horse racing has its eyes on the northern city of Liverpool as Aintree Racecourse hosts the prestigious Grand National, which is seen by many as the United Kingdom’s most important horse race. In Australia, the title for the nation’s most important thoroughbred horse race goes to the Melbourne Cup, a 3.2-kilometer (2-mile) flat race. Indeed, it is so important that Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday for those in the Melbourne metropolitan area.
The First Melbourne Cup
The first Melbourne Cup ran in 1861, with 17 horses competing. A stallion called Archer won, with a time of 3 minutes and 52 seconds at the hands of jockey John Cutts. The duo managed to win again in 1862, having shaved 5 seconds of their winning time. Four years after its inception, Melbourne Cup Day was a half-day public holiday in Melbourne, which later extended to a full day by 1877. Though the first race had a prize of 710 gold sovereigns (the equivalent of £710 at the time) and a gold watch on a winner takes all basis, the winner of the race did not receive a trophy until 1865. It wasn’t until 1919 that the “Melbourne Cup” came into existence.
Change in the Distance
The original Melbourne Cup race expanded over 2 miles, making its distance 18 meters longer than the current 3.2-kilometer distance. However, Australia embarked on the adoption of the metric in the 1970s, and horse racing was not exempt from this. In 1972, the 2-mile distance changed to 3,200 meters, making it 18.7 meters shorter than the previous races. Despite this, the race still has a distance of 2 miles.
Like most horse races, betting is a major tradition at the Melbourne Cup, and with over six months to go before the 2019 event, odds comparison site Oddschecker currently lists the 2018 winner Cross Counter as the favorite to win again in 2019. Few horses have won the Melbourne Cup back-to-back, and only a handful that have been able to claim a victory more than once, so history may be against Cross Counter.
With few horses managing to claim multiple victories, it demonstrates the close competition among entrants of the Melbourne Cup, the pinnacle of horse racing in Australia. Indeed, it is the height of horse racing, so much so that it brings the entire metropolitan area of its host city to a standstill. There are few places in the world where a sporting event creates a public holiday such as this one, which says a lot about the event in the region.