The race that stops a nation only runs for three minutes, but the national celebration lasts for the entire day.
Once a year, on the first Tuesday in November, Australians gather to enjoy the tradition that is Melbourne Cup day.
First run in 1861, the race began as a result of oneupmanship when two Melbourne race clubs had a spat.
That year, 17 horses competed for 710 gold sovereigns. Today, the race has evolved into one of the richest of its kind in the world, with the purse in excess of $6 million.
Thoroughbreds are flown in from across the globe to compete with Australia’s best in the hopes of claiming the unique, three-handled, 18 carat gold Melbourne Cup.
This advertising feature is sponsored by the following businesses. Click the link to learn more:
But, off the track, it’s also a day of glitz and glamour and there are a few traditions worth observing:
Pick a winner
It’s the one day of the year when it doesn’t matter if you know one end of a horse from the other.
Picking a cup winner is notoriously difficult, so just have some fun. Go the grey horse, the sentimental favourite, the runner with the catchiest name, a reputable jockey (or the jockey’s silk colours), your lucky number - or join a sweep.
If you are over 18 years of age and want to have a flutter with your local betting agency, get in early and ask for help. Staff will be on hand to help once-a-year-punters have a little wager and most outlets will open early on cup day, so don’t leave it too late in the day and risk being met with long queues.
Do a little research and know the name and number of the runner you wish to back. The gates will open on the 2017 Melbourne Cup at 3pm and will be Race 7. There are many different ways to bet, but some of the most common include:
- Win bet – your selection must come first.
- Place bet – your horse must come first, second or third for you to collect.
- Trifecta – you must choose three horses and they must cross the line in first, second and third place.
Whether you are celebrating in the office or at a function, cup day is a wonderful excuse to dress up in your Sunday best – after all, this country's most prestigious horse race is as much about the fashion as it is the field, so don’t forget your hat or fascinator.
Enjoy a leisurely lunch or afternoon tea in the office with friends or workmates. Many workplaces get in the spirit with people dressing up, serving nibbles or lunch with some non-alcoholic champers and watch the race on television.
Most venues will have a Melbourne Cup luncheon package and they are always very popular, so book early if your group wishes to go out for lunch.
Science behind the sea of colour
By his own admission, Mark Budge may have one of the best – and trickiest – jobs in the world.
For eighteen years the Flemington racecourse gardener has worked with 12 full-time gardeners and six labourers to ensure that the course is perfectly decorated with more than 16,000 beautifully blooming roses for the spring racing carnival.
“The roses add a wealth of colour and are part of the iconic image of Melbourne Cup day. There are climbing bush roses, standards and hybrid teas and they come in every colour imaginable,” Mr Budge said.
There is a lot of science, and a generous shovel of luck, behind the sea of colour which adorns the track for the race that stops a nation.
Technology is used to monitor the roses’ growing patterns and long-term weather forecasts give guidance on what lies ahead for the gardening team, all with the aim of getting the flowers to bloom exactly on time.
“The process is quite defined,” Mr Budge said. “We work from late May until August pruning and fertilising. From August until raceday we do general maintenance and are constantly watching the weather forecasts and hoping Mother Nature is good to us. We aim for the roses to predominantly bloom on the first Tuesday in November.”
Not just any roses are used for racing’s biggest day. Roses of all colours and varieties are trialled in the racecourse’s public garden for a year before they are given the green light to be on show for the Melbourne Cup carnival.
Iconic People’s Cup roams the country
Unlike many other iconic trophies, the Melbourne Cup does not spend the majority of time sitting in a glass case being admired from afar. Each year the coveted racing prize, affectionately called the People’s Cup, goes on tour across Australia and New Zealand before being handed to the race’s winning horse owner on Cup Day.
In the past 15 years, the Emirates Melbourne Cup Tour has travelled around 494,000 kilometres and visited more than 377 regional, rural and metropolitan destinations, providing communities with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the magic of the cup firsthand.
Accompanied by Victorian Racing Club personnel and legends of racing, the cup is held by keen fans, who don white gloves, at each stop.
This year, the famous trophy will visit 31 destinations starting in West Wyalong in regional NSW, where the gold used by ABC Bullion to make the trophy is mined.
The three-handled cup – one each representing the jockey, owner and trainer – is handmade by a goldsmith simply called ‘Sparrow’, using gold and a dash of silver. Though it looks seamless, the cup is made of many pieces of gold melded together. Construction begins nearly two-years before the cup is awarded on race day.
Today’s iconic trophy was not the original prize handed to race winners early in the event’s history. Initially they were given a watch, plate or piece of jewellery. The Cup as we now know it wasn’t presented until the early 1900s.