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History of the Melbourne Cup Carnival

A Brief History of the Great Day

Melbourne has been gripped in its annual bout of ‘Cup fever’ since the Cup was first run in 1861. Within 20 years, Cup Day itself was attracting crowds estimated at 100,000 – a remarkable figure given the population at that time was 290,000. There is no doubt it left an indelible impression on all those who attended.

Most notably, American writer Mark Twain wrote of his visit to the 1895 Melbourne Cup in his book ‘Following the Equator’. He described how “every man and woman ... who can afford the expense, put away their other duties and come. They begin to swarm in by ship and rail a fortnight before the day, and they swarm thicker and thicker day after day, until all the vehicles of transportation are taxed to their uttermost to meet the demands of the occasion, and all hotels and lodgings are bulging outward because of the pressure from within. They come a hundred thousand strong and they pack the spacious grounds and grandstands and make a spectacle such as is never to be seen ... elsewhere.”

This fervour continues to grip the nation each November and more recently, the fever has spread across the globe. As the world shrinks due to globalisation and enhanced technology, word has spread of the huge prize money, world-class facilities and unique aura that Twain alluded to, and now visitors come to Flemington from all over the world.

Melbourne Cup Day was first declared a holiday for Victorian public servants and bank employees in 1865. The following year it was declared a public holiday for all other public and private sector employees. In 1875, the Cup was, for the first time, run on the first Tuesday in November instead of a Thursday. The four days that make up the Melbourne Cup Carnival, have followed this format ever since.

In 1993 the Melbourne Cup Carnival changed forever. The Irish-trained Vintage Crop became the first northern hemisphere trained horse to win the Melbourne Cup. Charismatic trainer Dermot Weld had conquered racing’s ‘Everest’ and prompted an annual invasion of the world’s best staying horses looking to write their own chapter in racing folklore. In 2006, the international stamp on the Cup was affirmed when two Japanese owned and trained horses – Delta Blues and Pop Rock – scored a memorable quinella. In 2011 the French snared the race for the second consecutive time with impressive stayer Dunaden, following Americain’s win in the 150th running of the Melbourne Cup the year before.

In 2014, Germany recorded its first win with Protectionist for trainer Andreas Wohler and superstar English jockey Ryan Moore.

It was a win for the locals in 2015 when Melbourne jockey Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup in its 155-year history, beating arguably the strongest field ever assembled on 100-1 chance Prince of Penzance for regional Victorian trainer Darren Weir. Payne instantly shot to fame capturing the hearts of people not only in Australia but all around the world and securing her place in Melbourne Cup history forever.

In 2017, owner Lloyd Williams won a record sixth Melbourne Cup, and second in a row, when Rekindling triumphed under young Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien. And last year Godolphin and Great Britain broke through for their first Lexus Melbourne Cup win as Cross Counter secured victory for trainer Charlie Appleby and jockey Kerrin McEvoy.

As always, a host of international champion stayers will land in Melbourne this spring to attempt to take one of the greatest crowns in international racing.

The distinctive handmade gold three-handled loving cup awarded to the owner of the Lexus Melbourne Cup winner is one of the most recognisable trophies in world sport.

It is a far cry from the first trophy awarded to a Cup winner when in 1865 the owner of Toryboy received an elaborate silver bowl, which had been manufactured in England.

The Lexus Melbourne Cup trophy, in its current three-handled form, was first awarded in 1919 (won by Artilleryman) and celebrates its 100th year in 2019.

In 1931 the size of the Cup was reduced slightly due to the Great Depression, and the new compact stature was retained in the years to follow. However, to celebrate the 150th running of the Cup in 2010, the trophy was returned to the original design and size of the 1930 Cup won by legendary racehorse Phar Lap.

Today the Lexus Melbourne Cup trophy is valued at A$200,000. The weight of the Lexus Melbourne Cup, including the base, is just less than four kilograms, which includes 1,650 grams of solid 18 carat yellow gold. It takes more than 250 man-hours to produce the Lexus Melbourne Cup.

The Melbourne Cup was originally ordered through the jeweller Drummonds and manufactured by J W Steeth & Son. The original craftsman was James Steeth and later his son Morris assumed his role. Morris Steeth taught Lucky Rocha, who in 1970 took on the responsibility of creating the Melbourne Cup. From 1980 to 2015, the VRC commissioned Hardy Brothers Jewellers to create the Melbourne Cup each year. The VRC appointed ABC Bullion to manufacture the Lexus Melbourne Cup from 2016, using gold that has been mined, refined, and crafted wholly in Australia for the first time in the race’s history.

The Melbourne Cup Carnival 2019 on 10, 10 HD and LIVE streamed on 10 play this November.