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The history behind the race that stops the nation

Come 3.00 pm AEST on the first Tuesday in November, the whole nation will come together to watch one of the world’s most famous horse races – The Melbourne Cup!

Renowned for the racing, the fashion, the alcohol, and of course, the gambling, Melbourne Cup is one of the biggest events on the Australian social calendar. But, what are the origins of the Melbourne Cup and how did it cement itself as Australia’s most unmissable sporting event?

The Cup’s Humble Beginnings

The first ever Melbourne Cup was held at Flemington Race Course in 1861. The event was organised by two committees, the Victorian Turf Club and the Victorian Jockeys Club. In 1864, these two competing committees disbanded and formed the Victorian Racing Club, which has controlled the racing scene across Victoria ever since.

In 1861, Archer, a horse from Nowra, New South Wales took home the grand prize after beating the local favourite, Mormon. In the race’s first year, the award for first place was a gold watch and a cash purse.

In the years that followed, the prize for first place varied, with the first actual cup being awarded in 1865, however, the concept of the first place horse/jockey receiving the famous Melbourne Cup as part of their prize didn’t become a permanent fixture for another few decades.

By 1877, Cup Day officially became a public holiday in Melbourne, with close to 160,000 people flocking to the racetrack to soak up the holiday’s atmosphere.

Fashions on the Field

The Melbourne Cup has a long history of being an urban fashion parade, with women and men getting dressed up for the occasion.

In colonial times, the Melbourne Cup was one of the few places where upper and lower class citizens would come together socially. The first Australian race meet was held long before the introduction of the now famous Melbourne Cup, and was held in 1810 in Sydney, and was where the concept of Australian race culture was first established.

Jump forward to the races in Melbourne in the 1880s, and the crowds flocking to enjoy all of the festivities associated with Cup day completely transformed Flemington into a fashion spectacular.

However, Flemington’s high-stakes fashion reputation wasn’t fully cemented until the 1960s, when the Victorian Racing Committee held the first Fashions on the Field competition in 1962 to combat diminishing attendance numbers.

Then, in 1965 when English-born model, Jean Shrimpton shocked attendees by wearing a bold mini skirt to Derby Day at Flemington Racecourse, the races became synonymous with fashion, with Australians now spending as much as $52 million on clothing for the spring racing season each year.

The Melbourne Cup in Modern Times

Cup Day in the 21st century looks a little bit different to what it did when it first emerged in colonial Australia more than 150 years ago.

Each year, Melbourne Cup looks a little something like this:

  1. Over the course of spring racing season, Australians will bet as much as $1.5 billion on horse racing.
  2. Up to $52 million is spent on fashion each year.
  3. Australians drink the equivalent of 25 million swimming pools worth of alcohol between breakfast and dinner on cup day.
  4. 90 per cent of Australians from across the country tune in to watch the races on Channel 7 each year.
  5. People from NSW bet, on average, 22% more money than punters from other states.
  6. Each year, the Melbourne Cup attracts approximately 26,000 international and interstate visitors, giving the Victorian economy a boost of roughly $155 million.

Whether you’ll be attending the race that stops the nation in person or just watching from home, The Melbourne Cup is an event that’s not to be missed!

Show your support on the day by ordering your flags and banners from Tudor House, today!

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