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Melbourne Cup Day - the Race that Stops a Nation

Updated on April 17, 2014

The first Tuesday in November is Melbourne Cup Day

If you live in Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria you will get a public holiday on the first Tuesday in November. Many countries have public holidays to recognise the anniversary of important national dates like Independence or labour days or the birthdate of their sovereign. So what is the importance of the first Tuesday in November? It is a holiday to celebrate a horse race called the Melbourne Cup. It is also known as the race that stops a nation and is a major event on the Australian social calendar.

Photo credit: on flickr

The 1976 bMelbourne Cup
The 1976 bMelbourne Cup

The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861

The Melbourne Cup dates back to 1861. Since Australia went metric in 1973 is has been ran over 3,200 metres (two miles) at Flemington racecourse. It is the world's richest two-mile handicap with over $6 million Australian dollars in prizemoney plus trophies. The final field of 24 horses can be drawn from runners who have qualified all around the world. One mare, Makybe Diva, won for three consecutive years in 2003, 2004 and 2005 in a feat that will probably never be repeated. Veteran Australian trainer Bart Cummings has trained 12 Melbourne Cup winners so far in a long and illustrious career. Winners have come from all around the world including Ireland, Japan and France.

The Melbourne Cup is more than just a horse race though. It is a cultural event deeply embedded in the Australian psyche. Even people who know nothing about horses and who normally never bet or gamble will have a little flutter on the Melbourne Cup, whether through the tote or a workplace sweepstakes. At the appointed hour (usually 3pm) on that first Tuesday in November almost everything comes to a standstill for the approximately 2 minutes it takes the for the race to be run. Television sets all around the country tune in to watch, and race meetings are held all across the country in cities, towns and bush tracks so people can go there to bet on the big race with the bookmakers.

Ballads, poems and songs have been written about the Melbourne Cup and the day creates a party atmosphere across the country. It is one of Australia's oddest public holidays, and one of its most celebrated. Most Australians have "attend a Melbourne Cup at Flemington" on their bucket list. It's as close as we get to a pilgrimage.

Ladies Racewear Fascinators

Melbourne Cup is a dress-up day with fantastic prizes on offer in Fashions on the Field contests for the best-dressed woman, man and couple. There are also people in outrageous outfits who are just there to have fun and party. Many women complete there raceday outfit with a fascinator or hat.

Should Melbourne Cup Day be a Public Holiday?

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Any thoughts on the Melbourne Cup?

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    • MrAusAdventure profile image


      5 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      I grew up in Melbourne and loved having a long weekend at the start of November each year. These days, I don't even watch the race even though I have strong family ties with it. My great, great, great grandfather rode the winner of the 1901 race. Some other ancestors later on were also successful jockeys who rode in the race and have ended up on Australian stamps and everything!

    • norma-holt profile image


      5 years ago

      You have done a great lens and one I contemplated doing as well. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012-2 and also on How Much Do You Know About Australia. Hugs

    • tedwritesstuff24 profile image


      5 years ago

      Haven't back the winner for years! But being back in Melbourne this year for the first time in a decade and it's now bigger than ever. It should be an Aussie wide holiday. Let everyone join in the madness.

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 

      5 years ago from Orange County, California

      My daughter used to live in Louisville, Kentucky and the Kentucky Derby has the same effect on the city of Louisville as the Melbourne Cup has on the country of Australia. Everything revolves around the big race. Thanks for sharing your experience!


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