The Melbourne Cup: The 'biggest racing event on Earth'
It’s known simply as the race that stops a nation.
Office workers conduct sweepstakes then go to bars. School kids gather around television sets. Not even government sits. Some parts of the country even have a public holiday. Roads are desolate, as Australia stops for three-and-half minutes to watch the annual running of the Melbourne Cup.
On the first Tuesday in November, 24 thoroughbreds charge 3,200 meters around Flemington Racecourse for the AU$6 million (US$6.42 million) purse.
At the track, 100,000 race-goers pack the stands, the grounds, corporate marquees, dressed up and sipping champagne -- a scene replicated at high-fashion luncheons around the country and around the world.
It is estimated Australians wager more than AU$300 million on the race.
In the last decade, the Group 1 race has carved an international aura with punters from Hong Kong to London and beyond tuning in to the race.
Many also make the trek to Australian shores to be part of the event, which forms the main show in Victoria's Spring Racing Carnival. Out of the shadows of winter, Melbourne pulsates with racing fervor.
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Even those less interested in the racing industry during the rest of the year spark up with excitement and their own tips as to who will claim the famous race.
This year, there is more international interest than every before with a record 11 international horses in the field. Another seven began their careers overseas before coming to Australia.
The international assault to be part of Australian racing folklore is well beyond infancy.
All up, 82 international horses have now run in the Cup. Four have left as victors: Vintage Crop (Ireland, 1993), American-bred Media Puzzle (Ireland, 2002), Delta Blues (Japan, 2006), and last year's winner, Americain (France, 2010).
Many highly fancied international raiders have also been famous flops, failing to trot about the Winners' Circle.
The international assault
The favorite to win this year's race and claim back-to-back cups is Americain, which carries the stars and stripes around the track.
The Alain de Royer Dupre-trained seven-year old stallion will have to lug top weight of 58 kilograms around the Flemington circuit. He’s been undefeated in his three Australian runs, including last year’s Cup.
Prolific British trainer Luca Cumani has brought two horses Down Under to carry his dreams around the track: Manighar and Drunken Sailor. His horses have ran second in the Cup twice, including Bauer’s (2008) slightest of noses defeat. He has unfinished business.
“It wasn’t until I participated that I realized how big a thing it was,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “I was certainly enthralled by it. The moment you participate once, you come back.”
“I would say it’s the biggest racing event on Earth.”
Ex-Dubai cop, Saeed Bin Suroor, has brought over Lost In The Moment and Modun for the global powerhouse that is the Godolphin stable, owned by Shiek Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Some smart money is also being wagered on the Mark Johnston-trained Jukebox Jury -- the Irish horse has a victory over Americain on his resume.
The legend of the Cup
Legend has it that the first Melbourne Cup in 1861 was won by New South Wales horse Archer, who traveled nearly 1-000 kilometers overland to make the race.
But it’s more of a myth. It won the race, but history says it traveled by steamboat, and did the same in 1862 when it won the second running of the race.
Only a handful of horse have won the race two times: Depression-era crowd favorite, Peter Pan (1932, 1934), Rain Lover (1968-69) and Think Big (1974-75). The great mare Makybe Diva (2003-2005) did what no horse had done before and was considered near impossible by winning the great race three times.
That was also the last time a favorite was first past the post.
Even the nation’s most famous horse, Phar Lap, only won the race once, although he started favorite on three occasions.
Who will win this year’s race?
It’s no easier to pick the winner in a race that has even professional punters scratching their heads. The “mug punters guide” says 12 and 1 have been the successful numbers, winning the race 10 times.
And such is the mystery of the Melbourne Cup that mugs often get it right.
Around Melbourne Cup time, many look towards one stable to produce a winner.
Master trainer Bart Cummings is bidding for his “baker's dozen.”
He has extraordinarily trained twelve horses to win the great race. It’s a feat that would compare with the highest achievements in any sporting arena.
Last year, his champion stallion, So You Think, was beaten into third place.
This year, he's recruited the services of jockey Jim Cassidy on German import, now locally trained Illo.
One of Cassidy's more famous wins was on Kiwi in 1983.
Kiwi was the pride of New Zealand, but seemingly hopelessly placed near last on the turn. But he showed a miraculous turn of foot to win the race running away.
That run hit full steam at the iconic watchtower at Flemington, about a furlong from the winning post. It’s said that any horse to win the race has to be making its late charge past weary competitors from there.
On the first Tuesday in November, it’s the point where whips are cracking and one thoroughbred gallops into equine history.
And then a nation exhales.
The Melbourne Cup is run at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, November 1 at Flemington Racecourse and watched all around the country and beyond. Check local jockey clubs and race courses for viewing details.