The Melbourne Cup Carnival is the crowning week of racing in Australia.
The time-honoured Melbourne Cup was first run in 1861 and devised as a landmark racing event for Melbourne in the vein of the history and general public regard for the Kentucky Derby in America.
At a time when longer distance racing was very much in vogue, the two-mile (3200m) distance was chosen as the pinnacle staying contest. When Archer won that very first running of the Cup, his owners didn’t actually receive a trophy. Rather, they received a hand-beaten gold watch. A trophy wasn’t awarded until 1865 but even then it still wasn’t actually a Cup but an elaborate silver bowl made in England.
Artilleryman’s win in 1919 was the first time the three-handled “loving cup” we know as the trophy today was handed over to the victors and has become one of the most recognisable trophies in Australian sport. Today the 18 carat gold Emirates Melbourne Cup trophy is valued at approximately $175,000 and takes 250 man hours to create.
Originally held on a Thursday, the Cup was moved to the now traditional first Tuesday in November and declared a holiday for the City of Melbourne in 1875.
Although the Emirates Melbourne Cup, affectionately known as ‘the race that stops a nation™’ takes pride of place as one of the world’s most significant racing events, the AAMI Victoria Derby – run on the Saturday before – was inaugurated in 1855, making it the oldest race on the Australian calendar.
A classic test for three-year-olds, the Derby was modeled on the English version run at Epsom over the mile-and-a-half distance. When metric measurement came in in 1972, the Victoria Derby course was increased to 2500-metres to accommodate a longer run from the starting gates to the first turn.
AAMI Victoria Derby Day is widely regarded as Australia’s premier raceday with nine Group-level races on the card, four of which are Group 1’s including the Derby, Longines MacKinnon Stakes (2000m) as final lead up to the Melbourne Cup, the Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) for three-year-old sprinters and the Myer Classic (1600m) for mares.
While the Victoria Derby is dominated by colts and geldings, the Crown Oaks is the blue riband for fillies. Initiated along with the Melbourne Cup in 1861, the famous Oaks is run over the same distance as the Derby and has held its feature Thursday date for more than a century.
The final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival is Emirates Stakes Day. Originally known as the Cantala Stakes, the Emirates Stakes is feature mile event which dates back to 1919. Violoncello won the race in 1922 – after winning the Cox Plate a fortnight earlier.
The week’s feature sprint also takes place on this day with the Group 1 Patinack Farm Classic (1200m), a race which has developed into global significance being a leg of the Global Sprint Challenge. It’s worth noting that unbeaten champion Black Caviar saluted in 2010 and 2011.