The Race That Stops a Nation

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Today is Melbourne Cup Day – the race that stops a nation. On the first Tuesday of November every year most of Australia stops at 2.30pm to watch this horse race. In some states it is celebrated as a public holiday. Work sites hold Cup Sweeps so those unfortunate enough  to have to work can partake of a little flutter in the hopes of winning some pocket money.

Now that The Retired Husband and I are no longer in the workforce, we had our own little private sweep at home today. Nothing big. $5 per horse.  Winnings divided into $60, $40 and $20 for the top three horses. First prize went to son number one. Second to The Retired Husband and third to son number two’s girlfriend. I was so absorbed in watching I didn’t even realise the race had finished! That’s how quick it is.

This year created a first for the Melbourne Cup. The first female jockey ever won the race on her horse! It has created quite a stir.


All the places I worked in had a bit of down time on Melbourne Cup Day. Work stopped at 2.30 while the race was run. Everyone brought a plate of food to share. We all wore crazy hats. Sweeps were organised. Usually $1 or $2 ones. I might add here I have never won a sweep despite years and years of dedicated fluttering. The only prize I ever won was at a Melbourne Cup lunch with some friends at a fancy hotel one year. There were door prizes. And of course the inevitable best hat prize. Guess what? I won that! With a $2 fascinator I had cobbled together from a few scrunchies and other odd bits and bobs I found lying around in my craft cupboard. Very colourful, it went well with my hot pink jacket and skirt. I won a very showy basket of stainless steel serving platters and bowls, an ice bucket and a couple of bottles of very nice champagne.

Fashion is a big thing on Cup Day. Ladies go all out to impress. Doesn’t matter whether it’s at the Flemington Race Course where it is just as important, if not more, to be seen. Most clubs and hotels offer Melbourne Club lunches. It really is a race that stops the nation!  A friend of mine goes every year. And always dresses up spending substantial time and energy in selecting just the right outfit.  It’s all part of the fun and tradition.

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Here’s just a few facts –

It is a 3,200 metre race for thoroughbreds three-year-olds and over. It is the richest “two-mile” handicap in the world, and one of the richest turf races.

The first race was held in 1861 over two miles but was shortened to 3,200 metres in 1972 when Australia adopted the metric system.

The total prize money for the 2015 race is A$6,200,000, plus trophies valued at $175,000. The first 10 past the post receive prize money, with the winner being paid $3.6 million, and tenth place $125,000. Prize money 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 winner of the first Melbourne Cup in 1861 received a gold watch. The first Melbourne Cup trophy was awarded in 1865 and was an elaborate silver bowl on a stand that had been manufactured in England.

In 1876 Edward Fischer, an immigrant from Austria, produced the first Australian-made trophy.

The three-handled loving cup design was first awarded in 1919. It has become the iconic Melbourne Cup still presented today.

A new trophy is struck each year and becomes the property of the winning owner. In the event of a dead heat a second cup is on hand. The present trophy is made from 34 pieces of gold metal hand beaten for over 200 hours. Close inspection of the inside of the Cup will reveal small hammer imprints. As of 2008, the trophy values were increased and the Cup now contains 1.65 kg of 18-carat gold valuing the trophy at $125,000. The winning trainer and jockey also receive a miniature replica of the cup (since 1973) and the strapper is awarded the Tommy Woodcock Trophy, named after the strapper of Phar Lap.

‘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, and more recently the alternative of a fascinator, almost single-handedly keeps Melbourne’s milliners in business.

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.  Melbourne Cup Day is for the Yellow Rose.

just joey

PHAR LAP was the most famous horse in the world of his day. Phar Lap’s skin was preserved by Louis Paul Jonas and is now exhibited as a taxidermy mount by Melbourne Museum.

Phar Lap’s heart was remarkable for its size, weighing 6.2 kilograms (14 lb), compared with a normal horse’s heart at 3.2 kilograms (7.1 lb). Now held at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, it is the object visitors most often request to see.

In the four years of his racing career, Phar Lap won 37 of 51 races he entered, including the Melbourne Cup.

Early on 5 April 1932, the horse’s strapper for the North American visit, Tommy Woodcock, found him in severe pain and with a high temperature. Within a few hours, Phar Lap haemorrhaged to death. An autopsy revealed that the horse’s stomach and intestines were inflamed, leading many to believe the horse had been deliberately poisoned.

© Raili Tanska

Images – Pixabay and personal album

Reference – Wikipedia


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