Archive | November, 2012

Melbourne Cup

6 Nov

Melbourne Cup

It’s marketed as the race that stops a nation. This year the overall race time was 3 minutes, 20.45 seconds, it is a 3,200 metre race for three-year-olds and over. It is the richest “two-mile” handicap in the world. I have to admit we stopped what we were doing at work today, took out the iPhone and listened to it live. I had no clue who was racing this year, it’s just something I don’t really have an interest for. I did although rub my hands together when told my $2 outlay in the office sweep netted me almost a whopping $34. I didn’t even know at the time which horse had been drawn for me. Incidentally, I put the winnings straight onto tonight’s one hundred million dollar Oz Lotto draw. Gambling gets you nowhere really. A friend at work told me how she had explained to her young children what Melbourne Cup is, ” Well there is all these horses that run around the field and everyone spends lots of money to see which horse gets to the finish line first, usually you don’t win.”

And so it begins. My earliest memory of the cup would be 1981, Just a dash won ridden by Peter Cook. We never knew the riders or the horses names back then as kids, you pick by the colors that the jockey was wearing. I was always partial to blue & yellow after my favorite rugby league team.

The cup is conducted by the Victoria Racing Club on the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria, the event starts at 3pm (daylight saving time) on the first Tuesday in November. The race has been held since 1861 and was originally held over two miles (about 3,218 metres) but following preparation for Australia’s adoption of the metric system in the 1970s, the current race distance of 3,200 metres was established in 1972. This reduced the distance by 18.688 metres (61.31 ft), and Rain Lover’s 1968 race record of 3min.19.1sec was accordingly adjusted to 3min.17.9sec. The present record holder is the 1990 winner Kingston Rule with a time of 3min 16.3sec.The race is a quality handicap for horses 3 years old and over, the minimum handicap weight is 49 kg. There is no maximum weight, but the top allocated weight must not be less than 57 kg. The weight allocated to each horse is declared by the VRC Handicapper in early September.

The total prize money for the 2011 race was A$6,175,000, plus trophies valued at $125,000. The first 10 past the post receive prizemoney, with the winner being paid $3.3 million, and tenth place $115,000. Prizemoney is distributed to the connections of each horse in the ratio of 85 percent to the owner, 10 percent to the trainer and 5 percent to the jockey.The 1985 Melbourne Cup, won by “What a Nuisance”, was the first race run in Australia with prize money of $1 million.

Seventeen horses contested the first Melbourne Cup on Thursday 7 November 1861, racing for the modest prize of 710 gold sovereigns (£710) and a hand-beaten gold watch, winner takes all. The prize was not, as some have suggested, the largest purse up to that time. In order to attract a bigger crowd to the fledgling Cup, the first secretary of the Victorian Racing Club, Robert Bagot decided to issue members with two ladies tickets, calculating that “where ladies went, men would follow”. A large crowd of 4,000 men and women watched the race, although it has been suggested this was less than expected because of news reaching Melbourne of the death of explorers Burke and Wills five days earlier on 2 November. Nevertheless the attendance was the largest at Flemington on any day for the past two years, with the exception of the recently run Two Thousand Guinea Stakes. This year being 2012 there was in excess of 100,00 people attending.

The inaugural Melbourne Cup of 1861 was an eventful affair when one horse bolted before the start, and three of the seventeen starters fell during the race, two of which died. Archer, a Sydney “outsider” who drew scant favor in the betting, spread-eagled the field and defeated the favourite, and Victorian champion, Mormon by six lengths. Dismissed by the bookies, Archer took a lot of money away from Melbourne, refueling interstate rivalry and adding to the excitement of the Cup. The next day, Archer was raced in and won another 2 mile long distance race, the Melbourne Town Plate.

Phar Lap, the most famous horse in the world of his day, won the 1930 Melbourne Cup at 11/8 odds on, the shortest priced favourite in the history of the race. He had to be hidden away at Geelong before the race after an attempt was made to shoot him and only emerged an hour before the race time of the Cup. Phar Lap also competed in 1929 and 1931, but came 3rd and 8th respectively, despite heavy favouritism in both years.

In 2004, Makybe Diva became the first mare to win two cups, and also the first horse to win with different trainers, after David Hall moved to Hong Kong and transferred her to the Lee Freedman stables. The 2005 Melbourne Cup was held before a crowd of 106,479. Makybe Diva made history by becoming the only horse to win the race three times. Trainer Lee Freedman said after the race, “Go and find the youngest child on the course, because that’s the only person here who will have a chance of seeing this happen again in their lifetime.”

‘Fashions On The Field’ is a major focus of the day, with substantial prizes awarded for the best-dressed man and woman. The requirement for elegant hats. Raceday fashion has occasionally drawn almost as much attention as the race itself, The miniskirt received worldwide publicity when model Jean Shrimpton wore one on Derby Day during Melbourne Cup week in 1965.

Flowers, especially roses are an important component of the week’s racing at Flemington. The racecourse has around 12,000 roses within its large expanse. Over 200 varieties of the fragrant flower are nurtured by a team of up to 12 gardeners. Each of the major racedays at Flemington has an official flower. Victoria Derby Day has the Corn Flower, Melbourne Cup Day is for the Yellow Rose, Oaks Day highlights the Pink Rose and Stakes Day goes to the Red Rose.

In 2000, a betting agency claimed that 80 percent of the adult Australian population placed a bet on the race that year. In 2010 it was predicted that $183 million would be spent by 83,000 tourists during the Spring Racing Carnival. In New Zealand, the Melbourne Cup is the country’s single biggest betting event, with carnival race-days held at several of the country’s top tracks showing the cup live on big screens.

The Race That Stops The Nation is a poem about Australia’s fascination with the Melbourne Cup. Sydney born writer Vivienne McCredie wrote it in 1986. It was read out on an evening poetry radio program run by Kel Richards at the time and later published (2005 ISBN 978-0-9758311-0-6). Copies are in the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia.

For the record, this years winner was Green Moon.

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