This year’s Melbourne Cup Day, held on the first Tuesday of November at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria, falls on November 1. It’s a state holiday, and most schools and businesses are closed to allow everyone to participate. Although approximately 100,000 people visit Flemington, the 3,200-meter turf race is aired live to approximately 650 million people worldwide. Cup Day, as it is widely called, is Australia’s largest horse racing event, with more racecourses than any other country in the world. The day is part of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, a weeklong celebration of celebrations and fashion.
HISTORY OF MELBOURNE CUP DAY
It was 1840 when the Gold Rush settlement of Melbourne decided to race horses along the river’s banks. There was a wide flat space with spectators on a hill to the northwest. The organizers erected some scaffolding the next year, but it wasn’t until 1848 that a proper grandstand was built. The course was dubbed the Melbourne Racecourse.
The proprietor named the region “Flemington" after a home his wife owned in Scotland, and by the 1850s, the circuit was known as the “Flemington Racecourse." It is Australia’s oldest racecourse.
Horses from New South Wales, Tasmania, and New Zealand competed in the Australian Championship Sweepstakes by 1859. The event drew 40,000 spectators and was the first Australian sporting event to be televised in Sydney. At the time, Melbourne’s racing power players envisioned a larger, more prestigious race to raise funding for track development.
The Melbourne Cup first appeared in 1861. The Victoria Turf Club and the Victoria Jockey Club were rival racing clubs in the early days. With the two at odds, course management and the Cup suffered, the track was destroyed, and both clubs went bankrupt. As a result, they joined in 1864 to become the Victoria Racing Club, which is still the governing body of Flemington today. The following year, the Club was delighted when Melbourne Cup Day was declared a half-day holiday.
The Victoria Racing Club, on the other hand, did not own the land; they leased it. The Victorian Racing Club Act was established by the government in 1871, granting the club property ownership. In 1875, the Melbourne Cup was first run on a Tuesday. To accommodate the event’s scale and significance, Victoria declared the day an official state holiday two years later.
MELBOURNE CUP DAY FAQS
Why is Melbourne Cup Day celebrated?
Melbourne Cup Day has been celebrated in Australia since 1861, when the first race was contested at Flemington Racecourse in Victoria. Archer won the event, which he repeated the following year.
Is Melbourne Cup day a public holiday in Victoria?
Unless an alternate local holiday has been established by a non-metro council, Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday throughout Victoria.
How many horses died in the Melbourne Cup 2019?
While the Cup is undeniably one of Australia’s most important sporting events, 2019 has proven to be one of the most difficult years yet. Following the deaths of six horses in the Cup since 2013, an undertone of anti-racing sentiment has grown, a heartbreaking fact seized on by demonstrators.
HOW TO CELEBRATE MELBOURNE CUP DAY
Watch the parade
Join thousands of other people for a large procession in central Melbourne the day before the race as part of the week-long Melbourne Cup Carnival. Each entrant has a car or carriage that transports the jockey and trainer.
Wear a big hat
On Kennedy Oaks Day, one of four race days that comprise the Melbourne Cup Carnival, racing enthusiasts on the distaff side dress up in their beautiful floral finery and raise a glass of bubbly at the Victorian Race Club. Today, no ripped jeans or t-shirts! Ladies make a stylish statement in puffy sleeves, bright colors, vivid designs, lace, ruffles, eccentric headpieces, and footwear that was never meant to be worn on grass. This is the day when Australia’s premier milliners vie for the Millinery Award on the runway.
Place your bet
The Melbourne Cup is the world’s largest payout for a four-horse race. That’s only one of the reasons the Cup is known as “the race that stops the nation," as office employees across Australia pause their work to watch the race on television or the internet as it begins at 3:00 p.m. Melbourne, Australia.
5 FACTS ABOUT FAMOUS WINNERS THAT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND
- Horse homicide was suspected
Phar Lap, the New Zealand horse who won the Melbourne Cup in 1930, died of arsenic poisoning, according to scientists, however it is unclear whether foul play was involved.
- The first winner was the second winner
Archer, a bay, won the first two races in 1861 and 1862.
- The lady was a champ
Makybe Diva, a mare, won three years in a row: 2003, 2004, and 2005.
- This filly was fast
Auraria, a filly, was the first female horse to win the Melbourne Cup in 1895.
- The first record stands
Rain Lover not only set a course record for time in 1968, but he also won by eight lengths – the largest margin ever since Archer in 1862, who set a 10-length record.
WHY WE LOVE MELBOURNE CUP DAY
- Cup Day lasts a week
Cup Day reigns supreme over the weeklong Melbourne Cup Carnival, which includes four race days, fashion competitions, and family-friendly activities. The Lexus Melbourne Cup trophy, an 18-carat gold loving cup now sponsored by Lexus, travels the state as part of the Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour to generate funds for local charities.
- Humans become clotheshorses
Cup Day is not a day to be taken lightly. The fashionistas flock to Flemington to flaunt their wares. Ladies compete in Myer Fashions on the Field throughout the year, with regional champions proceeding to the state and national finals, when the winner is crowned. Not to be outdone, male peacock punters dig out their patterns and pocket squares to compete for their own national fashion trophy.
- We eat like a horse
Flemington Racecourse has a variety of eateries serving everything from gourmet hamburgers to expensive buffets to special entertainment packages that include canapés upon arrival. While tying on the feedbag with lamb shank, seared fish, pumpkin and ricotta tortellini, and afternoon tea, watch the race.