It’s Melbourne Cup day, the race has been run and the winner was Twilight Payment, in another great race. Champagne and beer have flowed across Australia to celebrate the wins and drown the losses.
It is amazing that one race captivates the nation as it does. People who have no interest in the races, watch transfixed, and cheer on a horse they have never heard of in the hope of winning the office sweep. Some have their annual bet of a dollar each way on the favourite with a likely return of about $10 and think it is Christmas if they win.
Others use it as an excuse to splurge out and spend the whole day backing horses across the nation at race meetings they would otherwise ignore. (I am in that category). Whatever way you are bent there is real excitement about the day that brings novices and seasoned punters together to collectively roar at the TV when the race is in its concluding stages and they urge on their chosen steed.
It is a horse race steeped in tradition and it has seen some amazing horses salute the judge. In recent history Makybe Diva must be rated the best. It won in three consecutive years (2003-2005) a feat that no other horse has done. There is an argument, and a good one at that, that Makybe is the best of all time. Black Caviar and Winx are in the mix to be the best of all time but other horses deserve a mention.
Gunsynd, Kingston Town, Carbine, Sunline and Phar Lap all deserve the accolades they have received in their time. It is hard to compare all of these horses as they competed across different distances, and some would never cover the distance of a Melbourne Cup, so you are comparing apples with oranges as the saying goes. There is no doubt though that Phar Lap is the most famous horse of all time and if you asked a person who had little knowledge of the industry to name the best horse that has ever raced in Australia, there is a good chance they would say Phar Lap.
The Melbourne Cup was first run in 1861 with a field of 17 horses. Prize money was about 700 pounds and a gold watch. The race was won by outsider Archer and the stallions name is forever etched in the history of the race. It wasn’t until 1875 that the Cup was run on the first Tuesday in November, and it has continued that tradition ever since. (Except during WWII when it was run on Saturdays) 1930 was the year Phar Lap broke through to win after running third the previous year. Michelle Payne was the first female jockey to win the race in 2015 on board Prince of Penzance but Maree Lyndon, in 1987, was the first female jockey to ride in the race. Gai Waterhouse was the first female trainer to win a cup with her horse, Fiorente first past the post in 2013.
Bart Cummings has been the standout trainer of Melbourne Cup winners, accumulating 12 Cups during his stellar career. Lee Freedman has won five and Etienne de Mestre has also won five. Now there is a good chance you have heard of Freedman but who on earth is de Mestre? De Mestre was the trainer of the very first Melbourne Cup and trained the five winners between 1861 and 1878.
This correspondent always watches the Cup with a group of friends. It is a day of what ifs or could’ve been, but a great day none the less. We will discuss where the jockey went wrong and what we would have done on our respective chances and a couple might sit back and gloat they picked the winner. For me it is a great day win or lose and may the tradition of the Melbourne Cup live long and proud for generations to come.
Lastly, I hope it has brought cheer to the people of Melbourne who have endured months of restrictions that I can imagine would have taxed each and every one of them.