The domestic fare may be reaching the home straight by the time we head into the autumn months, but things are only beginning to hot up on the international racing scene. France gives us the magnificent Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting, the USA lays on the Breeders Cup, and on the other side of the world, we have the biggest Australian contest of them all as Flemington Racecourse readies itself to play host to the latest edition of the mighty Melbourne Cup.
Widely referred to as the “Race that Stops a Nation”, Melbourne Cup Day is one of very few racing events to have earned its own public holiday, with Victoria residents given the day off to take in the action. Across the nation and around the planet, racing fans tune into this historic event, which debuted in 1861. Offering a huge A$8 million prize pool, the richest staying handicap in the world invariably attracts a field of the most talented two-mile handicappers on the planet, often including a healthy squadron of raiders from the top British and Irish yards. But what does it take to win? Here, we look back at the 23 editions from the current century ahead of the 2023 edition on the 7th of November.
As the above chart shows, the home team can be a tough nut to crack in their greatest race, with 14 of the past 23 editions falling to an Australian-trained runner. Star of the show amongst those winners was the wonder mare Makybe Diva, who won three successive editions between 2003 and 2005.
The Irish are rarely too far away in these major international events, and sure enough, the men from the Emerald Isle are next on the list with three wins since 2023. The only real surprise here is that Aidan O’Brien has not been responsible for any of those wins, although he still had a hand in it, with his son Joseph picking up the 2017 edition with Rekindling, and winning again with Twilight Payment in 2020. The great Dermot Weld set the ball rolling for the Irish when saddling Media Puzzle to a famous success in 2002.
France is the only other nation to have picked up more than one success over this period, courtesy of the Alain de Royer-Dupré trained Americain (2010), and Dunaden (2011) from the yard of Mikel Delzangles. Overall, the overseas raiders often carry much of the hype into the race, but it is unwise to dismiss the credentials of the always-competitive Aussies.
Age of Winner
The first thing to note here is that horses are aged differently in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In the Northern Hemisphere, all horses are assumed to have been born on the 1st of January, whereas in the Southern Hemisphere, the arbitrary date chosen is the 1st of August. When compiling the above table, the Northern Hemisphere ages have been used.
The only two three-year-olds to have come home in front in the current century travelled half the way around the world to claim the prize, with Joseph O’Brien’s Rekindling and the Charlie Appleby-trained Cross Counter winning in 2017 and 2018, respectively. O’Brien is also responsible for the sole outlier at the other end of the spectrum, having saddled the seven-year-old Twilight Payment to glory in 2020. In general, four to six years of age has been the place to be, with 20 of 23 winners (86.96%) falling into this bracket.
Only four jockeys have come home in front on more than one occasion since 2000, and all four are based in Australia. Glen Boss has the brilliant Makybe Diva to thank for his trio of successes, but Kerrin McKevoy achieved his hat trick on three different horses – Brew (2000), Almandin (2016), and Cross Counter (2018). Boss and McKevoy need one more win to draw level with all-time leading riders Bobbie Lewis and Harry White. The most familiar name on the recent list to British fans is that of Ryan Moore, who partnered the German runner Protectionist to victory in 2014.
The fact that no fewer than 20 different trainers have claimed the prize since 2000 illustrates just how competitive this event is. The only men to stand out from the crowd are Lee Freedman, who saddled Makybe Diva for two of her three victories, Robert Hickmott, who sent out Green Moon (2012) and Almandin (2016), and Ireland’s Joseph O’Brien.
However, the best record belongs to the 2008 winning trainer – the late great Bart Cummings. One of the true legends of the Australian Racing scene, Cummings won the nation’s crown jewel on a record-setting 12 occasions.
Overall, the Melbourne Cup appears to be a relatively fair contest from a draw perspective, with no pattern immediately jumping out. Boasting a maximum field of 24, 12 of the past 23 winners have emerged from stalls 1-12 and 11 from stalls 13+. However, there has been a slight concentration of winners in the more central stalls. Again looking at the past 23 editions, six winners have broken from stalls 1-6, six from stalls 17-24, and eleven from stalls 9-16.
Fate of the Favourites
Unsurprisingly, considering the big field handicap nature of this event, the Melbourne Cup hasn’t been the strongest of races for favourite backers, with only three market leaders obliging in the past 23 editions – equating to a loss of £5 to £1 level stakes.
13 of the winners over this period have returned a double-figure SP, including 25/1 shot Twilight Payment and 40/1 chance Viewed. The biggest shock of all came in 2015 when Michelle Payne stunned the racing world by coming home in front aboard 100/1 outsider Prince Of Penzance. Not too many punters were celebrating at the end of that one, but Payne earned herself a place in the history books as the first female jockey to lift the Melbourne Cup crown.