Melbourne Cup Horses
Melbourne Cup horses that have won Australia’s most prestigious race over the course of the history of the race occupy a special stall in the hearts of racing fans. An otherwise undistinguished galloper that wins the Cup is automatically granted elevated status that is commonly denied to otherwise great horses that have fallen short.
Winning horses can be grouped into several or more subjective categories. There are the multiple winners. There are those that attempted many times but never quite made it to the winning post. Some Melbourne Cup winners took the prize despite seemingly having no hope. Others jumped as prohibitive favourites, and then left punters with worthless betting slips and bookies with bags stuffed with money.
When the horses load the barrier on Tuesday, 1 November 2016, it will be the 156th time The Race That Stops A Nation has been contested. Two World Wars did not stop the race; neither did the equine influenza epidemic that so sorely affected races in 2007. Only severe rain to the extent that the course was too waterlogged to be safely ridden in 1870 and 1916 was able to cause the race to be run later.
Here is a closer look at Melbourne Cup horses that have left a permanent record of their ability to be the best over two miles, 16 furlongs or 3200 metres of Flemington turf over the past 100 years. Space does not facilitate mentioning all 100, but we hope to focus on the truly significant.
Greatest Melbourne Cup Horse of All-Time
There is no dispute that the first of the Melbourne horses we should mention is Makybe Diva. Foaled in 1999 in Great Britain, she is one of five British bred horses to win the Cup, one of ten mares and the only of the Cup horses to win three times. David Hall trained her for the first year win in 2003. Lee Freedman then assumed responsibility for her preparation, which led to the famous threat to hold her from the 2005 Cup if the track was not prepared to Freedman’s preference. She won or placed in 22 of her 36 jumps and earned almost $15 million. Glen Boss had the winner’s view on all three triumphs.
Multiple Winning Melbourne Cup Horses
The Cup horses to win twice are part of a short list. To limit ourselves to the last 100 years, we have to neglect 1861/62 winner Archer, leaving us with Peter Pan, the first multiple winner and the only one to have an intervening year between victories, Rain Lover and Think Big.
Peter Pan won in 1932 and 1934. He was the first since Archer, a span of seventy years. He was a contemporary of Phar Lap, Chatham and Rogilla, running during the years of the Great Depression and bringing some welcome relief to a country undergoing hard times. In his first win, he fell to his knees after clipping the heels of the horse in front of him. His stablemate Dennis Boy came from behind and bumped Peter Pan back to his feet, where he won by a neck. Unable to compete in 1933 due to a serious illness that decimated stables in Sydney, he won in 1934 with 62 kg from an outside barrier on a heavy track. He won or placed 29 times from 38 starts. With about the same number of races as the Diva, he won more times, but his take of £35,000, even when adjusted over time, is the equivalent of about $3 million today and about 20 percent of Diva’s take.
It took under half as many years for Rain Lover to grow the number of Melbourne Cup horses with two wins from two to three. He won in 1968 and 1969. His breeder/owner, Clifford Reid, had won the Melbourne Cup in 1945, but beyond the name similarity, there is no pedigree connection between the two.
Ridden by Jim Johnson in 1968, Rain Lover won by eight lengths and set a time record at 3:19.1 that was the best up to that time in well over 100 years and has only been surpassed 13 times. His back-to-back win was also the first in over 100 years. When he won in 1969, it was the year of the infamous doping scandal that scratched favourite Big Philou less than an hour before the race.
The last of the Melbourne Cup horses to win twice was Think Big in 1974 and 1975. Foaled in 1970, the curious thing about this giant of Melbourne Cup horses was that his racing record seems to be difficult to ascertain. The racing information on Think Big seems more in keeping with what might be encountered for a horse running in the 1800s. He is not in Australia’s Racing Hall of Fame. He was purchased on behalf of businessman Dato Tan Chin Nam for the quite reasonable price of $10,000, by legendary trainer Bart Cummings. Various sources consulted for information on Think Big, even including a website with the URL bartcummings.com.au provides little more than the fact that Think Big won The Melbourne Cup twice.
In 1974, Think Big overtook his stablemate Leilani, that had been the favourite and another stablemate, Holiday Wagon, in 1975.
Other than being foaled in 1970 alongside Leilani, his dying in 1995 and winning nine times, his racing record proved completely elusive, making him the most mysterious of the Melbourne Cup horses.
Hall of Fame / Melbourne Cup horses
Excluding multiple winners and Melbourne Cup horses that won prior to our arbitrary 100-year filter, there are eight horses in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame that have won the Melbourne Cup out of the 55-horse total. We will take them alphabetically by name.
Comic Court was the 1950 Melbourne Cup winner. Versatility is the main adjective that must be applied when describing him. He not only won at distances from 1200 metres to 3200 metres, he set track records in the process. He was foaled in 1945 in South Australia, but had it not been for World War II causing the sale of his dam and sire due to racing being cancelled in Adelaide, Comic Court might have been anonymous. Instead, he set a track record and burnished the reputation of trainer Jim Cummings, father of Bart, who served as Comic Court’s strapper.
Comic Court won 13 major races on his way to a total of 28 wins and 14.5 placings. Standing stud, he sired Comicquita that ran second in the Cup. Comic Court was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
The 1952-Cup winner, Dalray, won plenty of races, but did not enter the Hall of Fame until 2015. Foaled in New Zealand in 1948, he was compelled to stand at stud after only competing in his two and three-year-old seasons. He is notable for having sired Tails, the winner of the 1969 and 1970 Metropolitan Handicap and Grand Garry, winner of the 1960 Sydney Cup. Dalray was himself a winner of the Metropolitan.
Of all the Melbourne Cup horses in the Hall of Fame, Delta’s resume of racing and major wins is one of the more impressive. He won the Cox Plate in 1949 and two major races in 1950, but 1951 was his best season. He was sent off at 10/1 in the Cup and he beat three horses, second-place finisher Akbar, fourth runner Double Blank and fifth place Hydrogen that all jumped at 7/1. He entered the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Many Melbourne Cup horses, winners and also-rans, have come from New Zealand, and such is the case for Galilee, foaled in 1963. He won half of his 36 races and placed in 10 more. In 1966, he was the sixth Melbourne Cup horse to win the Caulfield Cup in the same year and he is the only horse to win those two races and the Sydney Cup in the same season. His Melbourne Cup win denied his Bart Cummings stablemate and 1965-Cup winner Light Fingers from making it two consecutive. His owners very nearly had another Cups Double to their credit from the 1965 races when their horse Ziema ran second in both races. Galilee entered the Hall in 2005.
Another New Zealander, Let’s Elope, produced the eighth Cups Double in 1991. She is one of the Melbourne Cup horses that were a mare. Foaled in 1987, she eventually came under the tutelage of Bart Cummings. Adding the LKS MacKinnon Stakes and Turnbull Stakes to her tally for 1991 was not enough to get her Racehorse of the Year recognition, that award having gone to another capable horse, Better Loosen Up. Let’s Elope did receive the honour for the next season. She finished out her career as a six-year-old running in the United States and was entered into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2012.
Might And Power
The 1997 leader of the Melbourne Cup horses was Might And Power. He is another winner foaled in New Zealand and his dad was the multiple Champion Australian and New Zealand Sire Zabeel. He produced 15 wins and eight placings and earned over $5 million. By the most serendipitous juxtaposition of names and events, he is the third of our eight Hall of Fame Melbourne Cup horses to win a Cups Double. He also won the Cox Plate and four other major races in 1998. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, with the sophomore class.
Arguably the greatest name of not just the Melbourne Cup horses, but all Australian and international horses as well, Phar Lap was yet another New Zealand horse that dominated the circuit. He won 37 times and placed in five other races. When he won the Melbourne Cup in 1930, he did so after winning the first of his two Cox Plates. His story is well known to racing fans and everyone in Australia. Phar Lap was foaled in 1926 and his life story was made into a successful film in 1983. The assassination attempt on him days before the running of the Cup is one of the most notorious events in Australian cultural history. Phar Lap received the highest impost ever assigned in the race in 1931 when he was given 68 kilograms. He was inducted to the Hall in the first year, 2001.
It is entirely coincidence that Rising Fast, foaled in 1949, was another of the Melbourne Cup horses to be bred in New Zealand. His singular accomplishment is being the only horse to have won the Melbourne Cup, the Caulfield Cup and the Cox Plate in the same year, 1954. He ran second in the Cup in 1955. Given a ten stone top weight and a wet, heavy track, he nonetheless showed indications of winning again until he was jostled by Toporoa that was being ridden by Neville Sellwood. Rising Fast’s jockey Bill Williamson would have been within rights to lodge a protest, but the horse’s owner, Leicester Spring, did not feel that a protest was warranted. Rising Fast entered the Hall of Fame in 2002.
Other Noteworthy Melbourne Cup Horses
Again adhering to our Melbourne Cup horses filter of only examining the last 100 years, three horses have won the Cup while running at 100/1 odds. Those were Wotan in 1936, Old Rowley in 1940 and Price of Penzance in 2015. Rimfire, the 1948 winner, was sent off at 80/1. He was declared winner in the first race where the photo finish camera was used.
Shadow King holds the distinction of being the leader of all Melbourne Cup horses for the number of attempts. He attempted the race six times between 1929 and 1935, never winning, but never finishing worse than sixth. His other attempts produced a fourth, two thirds and two second placings.
Poitrel is one of the Melbourne Cup horses that does not receive much attention. He won in 1920 while he was carrying the highest weight ever carried by a winner in the last 100 years, 63.5 kilograms.
There are many other Melbourne Cup horses that could well be included in this article if space was not at a premium. Some that at least deserve to have their name mentioned are Kingston Rule from 1990, the Flemington Melbourne Cup track record holder at 3:16.30 and Light Fingers, the 1965 winner of the Cup, another New Zealand product that dominated racecourses in 1964, 65 and 66.
Melbourne Cup horses will always be assured of at least some historical recognition. The defining race of the season has become a de facto national holiday and attracts the attention of the public in a way beyond any other sporting event in Australia.