The World’s toughest Group 1 handicap race has produced so many memorable moments over its illustrious history that it was a real challenge picking out five moments that really defined this race. In the end we settled for Melbourne Cup events that highlighted not just unusual feats of courage and endurance, but landmarks in the history of the race.
Here’s our pick of the five moments that made Melbourne Cup history.
1930 – Phar Lap
An appearance by one of the greatest racehorses of all time in the toughest handicap flat race in the world was always going to qualify as a landmark in racing history. In 1930 Phar Lap started the Melbourne Cup at a price of 8/11, the shortest ever starting price for a Melbourne Cup favourite. He ran the race carrying a whopping 63kg handicap, but managed to win his first and only Melbourne Cup title with ease. Phar Lap achieved this feat despite surviving an assassination attempt by gangsters who fired bullets at him while he was training for his run in the race.
1940 – Old Rowley
The Melbourne Cup has produced four 100/1 winners in its history. Of these Old Rowley produced arguably the second biggest upset. Prior to competing in the 1940 Melbourne Cup he hadn’t won a race in two years. He was also 7-years-old, and was suffering from joint and gait problems before the race. With little going for him, Old Rowley set off in the Melbourne Cup without even securing the backing of his owner. Fortunately his jockey was not prepared to accept that his mount was a lost cause, and made the decision to run Old Rowley on the outside of the field. This tactic played dividends as Old Rowley ran the race of his life to beat the race favourite, Beau Vite, and take a famous win.
1948 - Rimfire
While wins by rank outsiders are not uncommon in the Melbourne Cup, few outsiders who have won this race had as little going for them as Rimfire. In fact he was doubtful starter on the eve of the race after showing signs of lameness during his Cup preparations. He’d also been in poor form ahead of the Melbourne Cup, and made his way onto the course at a price of 80/1. If that didn’t sound like a setup for failure, then the fact that he was handed to a 16 year old jockey surely doomed his prospects in the race. However, Rimfire somehow managed to produce the win. He won by approximately an inch, prevailing in what was also the Melbourne Cup’s first ever photo finish.
2005 – Makybe Diva
Makybe Diva’s third win in the Melbourne Cup is arguably one of the greatest moments in the history of thoroughbred racing. Despite showing some excellent form ahead of the race, she was a doubtful starter due to the firm ground at Flemington, and was only declared after the VRC agreed to water the track. She made good on the improved conditions to become the first horse in history to win a Melbourne Cup treble. In doing so she also became the first horse since Rain Lover in 1969 to win the race carrying more than the weight-for-age handicap, with an extra 0.5kgs loaded onto her before the race.
2015 – Prince of Penzance
If Old Rowley’s win was the most improbable Melbourne Cup victory, then the win by 100/1 outsider Prince of Penzance deserves mention for another reason. The fourth horse to win the Melbourne Cup at odds of 100/1, he was also the first ever Melbourne Cup winner to be ridden by a female jockey. He wasn’t quite as dismal an underdog as some other outsider winners, having won the Group 2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup the previous year. Partnering up with Michelle Payne, who had already claimed a Group 1 in the Thousand Guineas, brought out the best in him as he beat an exceptionally talented field to land the biggest prize in Australian racing.
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