Horse racing in Melbourne harks back to the early 1840s when non-indigenous settlers fashioned grandstands out of bullock carts and rum was the betting currency of the day.
In 1861, with the Victorian Gold Rush in full swing and the populations of Melbourne, Bendigo and Ballarat swelling with gold seekers, the Victorian Turf Club took over from minor racing clubs and so commenced the first running of the Melbourne Cup.
The crowd was an estimated 4,000 people, the winning horse was a bay stallion named Archer.
Within 20 years, Cup Day was attracting crowds estimated at 100,000 - a remarkable figure given Melbourne’s population at that time was only 290,000.
Famed American writer Mark Twain attended the 1895 Melbourne Cup and wrote about it in his book ‘Following The Equator’.
“Every man and woman … who can afford the expense, put away their other duties to 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.”
At the first running of the Melbourne Cup, no one could have imagined the event would continue to run annually for more than a century-and-a-half; or grow to become one of the most significant events in Australia’s social and sporting culture.
To this day, “Cup fever” continues to grip the nation each November. With huge prize money, world-class facilities and an all-round unique event on offer, word about Melbourne Cup Carnival has spread, with people flocking to Flemington each year from all over the world.
As Twain wrote back in 1895 – "Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me."