The Melbourne Cup is known as the race that stops a nation due to its unrivaled popularity among Australian viewers. They gather around screens each year to watch the world’s most talented stayers vie for glory, while millions more across the globe watch the pulsating battle unravel. These are the numbers that underpin the most prestigious race of the year:
The Melbourne Cup takes place over a distance of 3200m on the first Tuesday of November at Flemington Racecourse. It was originally held over two miles (3219m), but it was shortened to 3200m when Australia adopted the metric system in 1972. The epic distance makes it the greatest stamina test of the year for stayers, who must display great reserves of strength and determination to prevail.
More than 300 superstar stayers are nominated for the Melbourne Cup each year, but the final field must be whittled down to the 24 leading contenders. The process of securing a place at the starting gate is extremely competitive. Stayers can earn a guaranteed entry by winning the Lexus Stakes, the Bart Cummings Stakes, Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, Australian Stayers Challenge or the Andrew Ramsden Stakes. This is very much an international affair, and horses also gain a ballot exemption by winning the Doncaster Cup in the UK, Irish St. Leger, Tenno Sho or Sankei Sho in Japan, or the Arlington Million or San Juan Capistrano Handicap in the USA. All other hopefuls go into the ballot system, and the final field is always formidable.
Prize money has soared to a cool $8 million, making it one of the 10 richest races in the world. The Everest and the Golden Eagle in Sydney have launched to great fanfare in the past few years, and they offer more prize money, but they cannot compete with the Melbourne Cup in terms of prestige, heritage and popularity. The Melbourne Cup is the race that all trainers are desperate to win, and the owners are extremely well-compensated if their stayers flourish in the race.
The Melbourne Cup is one of 74 Group 1 races that are held in Australia on an annual basis. The aforementioned Everest and Golden Eagle do not qualify as Group races, and they cannot match the Melbourne Cup’s prestige. The Melbourne Cup is by far the richest Group 1 race of the year, ahead of the $5 million Caulfield Cup and the $5 million Cox Plate.
The Victoria Racing Club claims that 750 million people around the world watch the Melbourne Cup. That would leave it ahead of the Grand National at Aintree as the world’s most popular race. VRC chair Amanda Elliott said the Cup is enjoyed by punters across 163 territories around the world, so the race that stops a nation has gone global.
The record attendance for the Melbourne Cup was set in 2003, when 122,737 people packed into Flemington Racecourse to watch the race. It regularly attracts more than 100,000 live spectators, but that will not be possible for the Melbourne Cup 2020. Racing has been held behind closed doors thus far this spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but VRC has submitted a proposal to the Victoria state government in the hope of welcoming between 10,000 and 15,000 spectators into Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day. “We are in regular discussions with the state government as to how we may be able to safely welcome small crowds to Cup week,” said chief executive Neil Wilson. “The decision ultimately lies with the state government and will depend on public health advice.”
The average Australian spends $179 on Melbourne Cup Day, according to a survey of 1,000 people on their spending habits. It found that the average Australian will place $88 worth of wagers and then spend a further $81 on entertainment, clothes, food and drink for the day. It is celebrated with a public holiday in Victoria.
Kingston Rule set the winning time for the Melbourne Cup all the way back in 1990. That record has not been troubled since. Media Puzzle finished in 3:16.97 in 2002, but very few winners break the 3:20 barrier. Last year’s winner, Vow and Declare, finished in 3:24.76, the slowest winning time since Americain in 2010.
Four roughies have defied odds of 100/1 ($101) to win The Melbourne Cup since it was inaugurated in 1861. The Pearl was the first underdog to spring a surprise victory in 1871, and then Wotan repeated the feat in 1936. The Pearl won at 100/1 in 1940. Prince of Penzance then became the first 100/1 roughie in the modern era to salute when he won the Melbourne Cup in 2015.
Just 35 favourites have won the Melbourne Cup since 1861. The last favourite to salute was Fiorente in 2013. Makybe Diva won it as the favourite in 2005, but they are the only two favourites in the past 15 years to win the race that stops a nation. That speaks volumes about the competitive nature of this famous race.