Everyone is an expert.
Everyone reckons they have the winner. Every horse is a chance in the massive field, depending on who you speak to.
Whether they’ve actually watched a horse race since the last running of the Melbourne Cup is another matter. You don’t have to be a punting expert to have a bet, as the packed TABs and overloaded online gambling websites will attest.
It’s a Public Holiday that brings people together. Barbecues, booze and fun get togethers are the order of the day.
Apart from the main race, which is usually number seven on the card, around 3pm, there’s not a whole lot of quality about the 10 race event.
But that doesn’t matter in the least – they’re all waiting for the cup.
Whether its grandma Beryl dropping a fiver on the horse that has the name she likes the most, or hardened punters splurging the big bucks on curious exotics, every one is united on the bet during the three and a half minute, two mile race as they cheer their charge home.
It might actually be inaccurate to call it the race that stops the nation.
Perhaps the race that stops the world? The event is broadcast into 120 countries, with an estimated 700 million people tuning in to watch.
That’s plenty of eyes taking an interest in the race.
What is the race?
The Melbourne Cup is the world’s richest handicap race, with a prize pool in excess of $6.4 million available to the 24 horse field.
It is raced over 3200 metres and open to horses aged three years and older.
Being that it’s a handicap event, the best horses are allocated weight penalties in order to level the playing field. The minimum weight is 49 kilograms. The top weight must carry 57 kilograms or more. The handicapper declares the weights and then will allocate penalties – ie, more weight – if any of the nominated runners win further big races in the lead up to the cup.
The Melbourne Cup race is held on the first Tuesday in November at the storied Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia, and is part of the ‘Melbourne Cup Carnival’ (The Derby, The Oaks and Stakes Day) – which is part of the broader Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.
Entries for the Melbourne Cup close during the first week of August.
If there are more than 24 nominees, horses are balloted, with factors such as prize money, wins and places in recent races and handicap weight taken into account to exclude runners.
Direct entry is gained if a horse wins one or more of the following races: Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, Doncaster Cup (United Kingdom), Lexus Stakes, LKS Mackinnon Stakes Irish St. Leger (Ireland), Victoria Derby, Tenno Sho (Spring) (Japan), Arlington Million (USA), Sankei Sho All Comers (Japan), San Juan Capistrano Handicap (USA) Australian Stayers Challenge.
Key Melbourne Cup dates in history
The first incarnation of the Melbourne Cup was in 1861, on a Thursday, and it is now one of the most time honoured sporting events in Australian history, running every year since.
It even survived the two World Wars.
After starting small, the event quickly gathered steam and, by 1873, it was so popular, that people were shirking their work and family responsibilities to make sure they were able to watch the race.
This led to it being declared a public holiday by authorities in Victoria that year.
The first bookmakers were given licences to operate at Flemington in 1882.
The TAB first operated at the cup in 1982, but wasn’t a recognised entity until 1961.
It had traditionally been run with the majority of Australian horses, but Vintage Crop’s win in 1993 was the turning point for international raiders, wanting a slice of the Melbourne Cup Pie.
These days, there are often 30 or more nominations from overseas horses.
Australia loves punting on the Melbourne Cup
We mentioned it’s the biggest single punting event in Australia and we weren’t lying. Australians drop more than $200 million on the race each year – that’s about nine bucks per head of population. It’s an amazing figure, but there are riches to be made.
Because there is rarely a sure fire winner and, with the huge fields, win and place odds are superb, while the exotics can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if outsiders finish in the top three or four.
Outside of the major betting companies, there are often cup sweeps, usually at workplaces or gatherings of friends and families, where people can buy in and get random horses drawn out of a hat. Winners and place getters usually get the spoils of the prize pool, and the last place getter will usually get their money back.
Here’s a short list of some of the ways you can bet on the Melbourne Cup:
Win bets: Win bets are fairly self explanatory. You select the horse you want to win, decide how much you want to bet on it and hope it crosses the finish line first. Not rocket science. We would advise that you check the form guide and try to make an informed decision, but the usual rules of punting go out the door on Melbourne Cup day.
Place bets: More chances, lower odds. The horse you decide to wager on with your place bet must run either first, second or third for you to win cash.
Each way bets: A bit of a hedge, this gives you the enhanced winner’s odds, while also giving you an opportunity to secure a consolation if the horse runs a drum. So if it runs first, you get a dividend for both the win and place bet, while if it comes in second or third, you forfeit the win wager, but still get a pay out on the place.
Quinella: It gets a little harder here. With quinella bets, you need two or more selections and at least two of your picks must finish first and second in the race for you to collect cash. It doesn’t matter what order they come in, provided they are boxed.
Exacta: An exacta is similar to a quinella, except you must select the exact order in which your horses will finish. So your selections must come first and second in the race, in the order that you pick them. You can have more than one selection to finish first and more than one to finish second, but the bet will cost you more.
Duet: Pick two or more horses and provided two of them finish either first, second or third, your duet is a winner. Long story short, your picks can come first and second, first and third or second and third and you still win.
Trifecta: One of the most popular exotics, this is picking the first three horses to finish, in any order if it’s boxed, or first, second then third, in order, if it’s straight. If you box your selections, the bet will cost you extra. It’s not as easy as it sounds though. Remember, there are 24 horses in the race.
First Four: Like a trifecta on steroids – Instead of three, you need four correct finishers – first, second, third and fourth – to collect your bet. It’s near on impossible, but, if you manage it, you can get rich. In 2013, the first four in the cup paid more the $1 million in some states. Not bad juice if you can get it.
Futures: You can bet on the Melbourne Cup all year round. Often some online bookies will put out markets for next year’s race moments after the completion of the current incarnation. Odds will fluctuate greatly as more horses nominate and those horses that win big races get direct entry to the Cup.
Quick tips for betting on the Melbourne Cup
First and foremost, make sure you’re punting within your means, even if it is the Melbourne Cup. Don’t spend the rent money on a Cup runner in the hopes of getting it back. It’s bad business. Make sure all your obligations are met and then use your disposable income.
Make sure you have multiple betting accounts. This is how you find the best odds on your Melbourne Cup runner – and take advantage of Melbourne Cup promotions and bonus bets with different bookies.
Check the form! Yes, we know said this is out the door, because, for many people, it’s the only time they will bet on the season, but even finding out how the horse has fared over distance races and what they’ve been churning out recently, can help inform your decision.
Notable Melbourne Cup horses you may or may not know
Winning the Melbourne Cup does not guarantee legend status. Some horses, for whatever reason, become household names. Others win the race and then fade into obscurity. It’s often all about the story. The tear jerkers or the super winners often make their way into the nation’s collective heart.
Here are some of our best and brightest winners:
Archer was the first ever winner of the Melbourne Cup in 1861. It went back to back a year later.
Only five horses have won the race more than once. Perhaps the most memorable of those was the superstar Makybe Diva, which took home the cup three years in a row from 2003 to 2005.
Kingston Rule won the race in 1990 with a record time of 3.16.3.
Martini-Henry was the first International Raider to win the cup, way back in 1883, and the last five winners have all come from overseas – Protectionist (Germany), Fiorente (Ireland), Green Moon (Ireland), Dunaden (France) and Americain (USA).
Sheila Laxon became the first woman to officially win the Melbourne Cup when her horse Ethereal won the 2001 race. We say officially, because a Mrs Allan McDonald was credited as training the 1938 winner Catalogue, because women were not allowed to train horses in the cup.
Mighty Phar Lap, whose name transcends the race, won the Melbourne Cup in 1930, during the Great Depression. Phar Lap was a hero of the people in very dark times.
Fighting through the loss of his brother, fellow jockey Jason Oliver, top Melbourne Hoop Damien Oliver steered his mount, Media Puzzle to victory in 2002, fighting back tears as he remembered his brother moments after the race.
One trainer stands above all in Melbourne Cups. That is the great Bart Cummings, who has won the race a record 12 times, his first in 1965 and most recent in 2008. The next best are Lee Freedman and Etienne de Mestre, with five each.
Did you know?
The race isn’t exactly two miles (3219 metres). It used to be, but was shortened in 1861 to 1.988 miles (3200 metres) when Australia adopted the metric system.
While these days it attracts the most glamorous pap from across the spectrum of the sporting and entertainment world, the Melbourne Cup was once visited by the great American author Mark Twain. His 1895 visit prompted him to muse: “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.” That’s a pretty good review, in any one’s language.
In a bid to encourage more women to attend the cup, the first Fashions on the Field was held in 1962. These days the fine frocks and fancy suits are all the rage at the cup, with both men and women buying into the competitions, with big prizes for best dressed available.
The limit for runners is 24, but that wasn’t always the case. We would not have wanted to be a jockey when the largest field of 39 runners trotted onto the track in 1890.
While the prize money is what winners really want, the Melbourne Cup trophy is actually worth an amazing $175,000. It’s made out of 18 carat gold every year, has three handles and is known as ‘The Loving Cup’.
List of Melbourne Cup winners
Alain de Royer Dupre
Dermot K. Weld
Might and Power
Dermot K. Weld
T K Allan
What A Nuisance