The Upside Down Under
The Emirates Melbourne Cup


The Emirates Melbourne Cup is Australia's most prestigious annual Thoroughbred horse race and the richest in the world.

The Melbourne Cup is a 3,200 metre race for three-year-olds and over, conducted by the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) on the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria as part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. It is the richest "two-mile" handicap in the world, and one of the richest turf races.

The Emirates Melbourne Cup
The Emirates Melbourne Cup

The Emirates Melbourne Cup has been the official name given to the world’s richest handicap race since Emirates, the largest Middle Eastern airline, signed a seven-year-old sponsorship deal with Racing Victoria back in 2004.

That deal was subsequently extended and Emirates continue to sponsor the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m), run as Flemington Race 7 at 3pm on the first Tuesday of November annually on the third day of the iconic Melbourne Cup Carnival.

Emirates Airline has had a long relationship with horse racing, as the home of the airline is Dubai – arguably the capital of international horse racing. Emirates thus has a great appreciation for the best in horse racing, and the Melbourne Cup is a fantastic distance race that draws more eyes than most other horse races worldwide.

The Emirates Melbourne Cup
Emirates Airline has had a long relationship with horse racing.

While the distance, conditions, location, race number, field size or date of the annual Melbourne Cup didn’t change following the sponsorship by Emirates, one thing that did alter was the Melbourne Cup prize money.   Initially the stakes were raised to just over $5 million, with the Melbourne Cup now worth in excess of $6.2 million in total prize money and trophies.

The Melbourne Cup has a long tradition with the first race held in 1861 over two miles (3.219 km) but was shortened to 3,200 metres (1.988 mi) in 1972 when Australia adopted the metric system. This reduced the distance by 18.688 metres (61.312 ft), and Rain Lover's 1968 race record of 3 minutes, 19.1 seconds was accordingly adjusted to 3 minutes, 17.9 seconds. The present record holder is the 1990 winner Kingston Rule with a time of 3 minutes, 16.3 seconds.

The First Melbourne Cup

On 7 November 1861, some 4000 people gathered at Melbourne's Flemington Racecourse amid a carnival atmosphere for the first running of what would become the world's richest handicap race.

Cup historian and author Dr Andrew Lemon said of the race...

"The race attracted a lot of inter-colonial attention even in its first running, as it had a big prize and was the object of a lot of advance betting speculation,.."

"It was popular because Melbourne was a gold-rich city by 1861 and already had an established reputation as a centre for horse racing. Flemington Racecourse was an ideal amphitheatre for horse racing and was close to the town."

Newspaper clipping of the First Melbourne Cup
Newspaper clipping of the First Melbourne Cup

On the day of the first Melbourne Cup there were 21 entrants, but four were scratched leaving only 17 at the starting line at 3:35pm. However, before the flag was able to drop, one of the horses, Twilight, bolted. She ran the full length of the course without her jockey before she was caught and lined up again.

When the flag finally dropped, it proved to be a memorable start to the now world-famous event.

"The first running was marred by an accident in the early part of the race when two horses fell," says Andrew.

"Both horses had to be put down and one jockey broke an arm."

Frederick Standish, member of the Victorian Turf Club and steward on the day of the first Cup, was credited with forming the idea to hold a horse race and calling it the "Melbourne Cup".

The winner of this first Melbourne Cup race was a 16.3 hand bay stallion by the name of Archer in a time of 3.52.00, ridden by John Cutts, trained by Etienne de Mestre, and leased (and consequently raced in his own name) by de Mestre. As a lessee de Mestre "owned" and was fully responsible for Archer during the lease. Archer was leased from the "Exeter Farm" of Jembaicumbene near Braidwood, New South Wales. His owners were Thomas John "Tom" Roberts (a good school-friend of de Mestre's), Rowland H. Hassall (Roberts' brother-in-law), and Edmund Molyneux Royds and William Edward Royds (Roberts' nephews).

Archer - First Melbourne Cup winner
Archer - First Melbourne Cup winner

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 favour 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, 'refuelling 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.

It has become legend that Archer walked over 800 km (over 500 miles) to Flemington from de Mestre's stable at "Terara" near Nowra, New South Wales. However, newspaper archives of the day reveal that he had travelled south from Sydney to Melbourne on the steamboat City Of Melbourne, together with de Mestre, and two of de Mestre's other horses Exeter and Inheritor. Before being winched aboard the steamboat for the trip to Melbourne, the horses had arrived in Sydney in September 1861.


Entries for the Melbourne Cup usually close during the first week of August. The initial entry fee is $600 per horse. Around 300 to 400 horses are nominated each year, but the final field is limited to 24 starters. Following the allocation of weights, the owner of each horse must on four occasions before the race in November, declare the horse as an acceptor and pay a fee. First acceptance is $960, second acceptance is $1,450 and third acceptance is $2,420. The final acceptance fee, on the Saturday prior to the race, is $45,375. Should a horse be balloted out of the final field, the final declaration fee is refunded.

Balloting conditions

The race directors retain the absolute discretion to exclude any horse from the race, or exempt any horse from the ballot on the race, but in order to reduce the field to the safety limit of 24, horses are balloted out based on a number of factors which include:

  • prize money earned in the previous two years,
  • wins or placings in certain lead-up races
  • allocated handicap weight

Prize money

The total prize money for the 2015 race is A$6,200,000 (USD $4,759,120) , 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.

2017 Melbourne Cup Prize Breakdown
2017 Melbourne Cup Prize Breakdown

The 1985 Melbourne Cup, won by "What a Nuisance", was the first race run in Australia with prize money of $1 million.

The Cup currently has a $500,000 bonus for the owner of the winner if it has also won the group one Irish St. Leger run the previous September.


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. The first existing and un-altered Melbourne Cup is from 1866, presented to the owners of The Barb; as of 2013, it is in the National Museum of Australia. The silver trophy presented in 1867, now also in the National Museum of Australia, was also made in England but jewellers in Victoria complained to the Victorian Racing Club that the trophy should have been made locally. They believed the work of Melbournian, William Edwards, to be superior in both design and workmanship to the English made trophy. No trophy was awarded to the Melbourne Cup winner for the next eight years.

The 1865 Melbourne Cup Trophy
The 1865 Melbourne Cup Trophy

In 1876 Edward Fischer, an immigrant from Austria, produced the first Australian-made trophy. It was an Etruscan shape with two handles. One side depicted a horse race with the grandstand and hill of Flemington in the background. The opposite side had the words "Melbourne Cup, 1876" and the name of the winning horse. A silver-plated base sporting three silver horses was added in 1888, but in 1891 the prize changed to being a 15-inch-high (380 mm), 24-inch-long (610 mm) trophy showing a Victory figure offering an olive wreath to a jockey. From 1899 the trophy was in the form of silver galloping horse embossed on a 3-foot-long (0.91 m) plaque, although it was said to look like a greyhound by some people.

The 1876 Melbourne Cup Trophy
The 1876 Melbourne Cup Trophy

The last Melbourne Cup trophy manufactured in England was made for the 1914 event. It was a chalice centred on a long base which had a horse at each end. The trophy awarded in 1916, the first gold trophy, was a three-legged, three-armed rose bowl. The three-handled loving cup design was first awarded in 1919. In that year the Victorian Racing Club had commissioned James Steeth to design a trophy that would be in keeping with the prestige of the race, little realising that it would become the iconic Melbourne Cup still presented today. In the Second World War years (1942, 1943 and 1944) the winning owner received war bonds valued at 200 pounds.

The 18-carat gold Melbourne Cup trophy, nicknamed the 'Loving Cup' because of its handmade design, is awarded to the winning horse's owner. The winning trainer and jockey are each awarded a miniature version of the trophy, and the strapper receives the Tommy Woodcock, which is named on behalf of Phar Lap's attendant.

The 'Loving Cup' Melbourne Cup Trophy
The 'Loving Cup' Melbourne Cup Trophy

Trophy Values:

  • Melbourne Cup trophy: $150,000.
  • Trainer & Jockey miniatures: $10,000 trophy.
  • Strapper's trophy:  $5,000.

A new trophy is crafted each year, and a second identical trophy is also present should the race ever end in a dead-heat. This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds with two out of the last eight cups being decided by a hair's breadth: 2008 when Viewed pipped Bauer; and 2011 when Dunaden just nosed out Red Cadeaux.

The Emirates Melbourne Cup Tour

Since 2003, the revered Melbourne Cup has travelled more than 456,000 kilometers to rural, regional and metropolitan communities across Australia and New Zealand.  Victorian Racing Club Chief Executive Simon Love said...

"The VRC created the concept of the Emirates Melbourne Cup Tour with the aim to provide communities without easy geographical access to the Melbourne Cup an opportunity to experience the magic of the trophy first-hand,"

"We never dreamed that the Tour would evolve into such a significant community event, which 15 years later, continues to grow in popularity.

The Emirates Melbourne Cup Trophy

In 2016, the $175,000 gold trophy toured 34 destinations, providing schools, councils, hospitals, aged-care facilities and racing clubs with a unique opportunity to host a day of community events and raise valuable funds for local causes.

While the winner of the first Melbourne Cup in 1861 received a gold watch, today's three handled 'loving cup' is made from 44 pieces of hand-beaten gold sourced from West Wyalong in NSW, and crafted over 200 hours by ABC Bullion.

The Emirates Melbourne Cup Tour welcomes submissions from community groups, councils and racing bodies in rural and regional areas as well as capital cities. Each host destination selected makes a commitment to provide memorable and engaging community events involving the Cup for everyone to enjoy. Local fundraising initiatives are also supported.

Myer Fashions on the Field

Myer Fashions on the Field at Flemington is not only an undisputed institution of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, it has established its place as Australia's largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event. It continues to grow in prestige and stature and today attracts media attention and celebrity judges from around the world.

Myer Fashions on the Field
The 2012 state finalist for Myer Fashions on the Field, with Online People's Choice winner

The first Melbourne Cup was run at Flemington Racecourse in 1861 and right from the start the complete costume women wore became a subject of interest for journalists and the public alike.

This didn’t abate over the century following, instead their curiosity only increased as changes in society happened and two World Wars came and went.

In the edition of every woman’s favourite magazine The Australian Women’s Weekly published on 13th November 1957, they used the headline..

‘In the Fashion Field for Flemington’.

Flemington on Melbourne Cup day 1889
The Lawn at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day c1889 by Carl Kahler, courtesy National Library of Australia

As part of a push to promote the Centenary Cup in 1960 fashion, flowers and favourites were promoted to ‘woo more women to the races’.

This was so successful in 1962 the Victoria Racing Club launched a ‘Fashions on the Field’ competition for the Spring Racing Carnival to find ‘the smartest dressed woman.

Heats and finals now stretch across the Melbourne Cup Carnival, staged in a two-story enclosure inspired by the fashion runways around the world which offers an enhanced contestant and VIP experience and greater public viewing.

The competition was first staged in 1962 in a bid to attract more women to the races, with the object of ‘finding the smartest dressed women at the Carnival within economic restraints’. There were initially three categories for ladies – for outfits that had cost £30 and under, and £50 and over; and a category for Most Elegant Hat.

During its colourful history, Myer Fashions on the Field has undergone many developments but the competition’s basic premise remains: an opportunity for the fashion industry to showcase its wares and for women and men to indulge in their passion for fashion.

Myer Fashions on the Field for men
Myer Fashions on the Field is not only for women.

The newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald reported in November 1987 the stock market may have crashed, but women were still sparing no expense to compete in the Fashions on the Field.  Today it is a national event and is marketed around the world.

Throughout the year events are held across the country at race events to find finalists in the Women’s Racewear category interstate.

The winners are then all flown to Melbourne to compete in the major competition held on Crown Oaks Day, traditionally now Women’s Day at the races in Melbourne.

The local finalist is chosen from the three winners of the Fashions on the Field competitions held on Victoria Derby Day, Melbourne Cup Day and Crown Oaks Day and this lady competes against all the other state winners.



About Emirates Melbourne Cup

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