The Strangest Melbourne Cup Customs

By Captain Thomsen on 27 Feb 2019

yellow rose melbourn cup customs

The Melbourne Cup is an unusual race in more way than one. You probably already know it's the richest race in Australia, the toughest over 3200m and the Australian race that attracts the most foreign entries.

However, beside these facts, the Melbourne Cup has been around for so long that it's attracted it's fair share of uniquely Australian customs.

Here's our rundown of the strangest Melbourne Cup customs.

It has its own public holiday

There are plenty of big races in the world, and it's likely that one or two take place on public holidays. However, the Melbourne Cup is unique in that there's a public holiday specifically because the race is taking place. The public holiday is currently restricted to the city of Melbourne and some surrounding areas. However, that may change with so many Australians already taking half-days on Melbourne Cup day to watch the race.

It's run on a Tuesday

The reason why the Melbourne Cup has its own public holiday comes down to when it's run. You'd expect a race of this magnitude to take place on a day more congenial to festivities, like a Friday or a Saturday. Early race organizers felt differently and decided the Melbourne Cup should be run on a Tuesday, and not any Tuesday - the first Tuesday in November. This little quirk also means that unlike many other major international Group 1 races, the Melbourne Cup is run very early in the racing season.

A major tradition to watch the race in the Flemington Car Park

With the Flemington stands packed to capacity for the Melbourne Cup, many Australians choose to watch the race from the car park and don't even catch a glimpse of a flesh and blood horse during the day. This custom is catered to by the Victoria Racing Club which allows members to book a space to park their cars, rent a bit of lawn on which to lay down a picnic, or even hire a fully catered marquee.

The Melbourne Cup has an official flower

Several thousand of them actually. Throughout the year a team of gardeners at Flemington Racecourse labour to keep the course's 12,000 odd roses in good shape. On Melbourne Cup day yellow roses take center stage as the official flower of the day's big race.

It has also inspired professional poets

The Melbourne Cup is frequently described as 'the race that stops a nation'. In 1986 a slight variation on this phrase became part of the Australian literary landscape after poet, Vivienne McCredie, wrote the poem The Race That Stops a Nation. That's not all, Mark Twain witnessed the race in 1895 and wrote an appreciative description of festivities for American audiences.

The Melbourne Cup has never been cancelled

During the years of the first and second World Wars many Australian sports came to standstill. Not the Melbourne Cup. The only concession the race organizers made to the grave global conflicts of the time was to move Melbourne Cup day to Saturdays between 1942 and 1944. The Melbourne Cup has, however, been postponed twice. This was due to waterlogged tracks in 1870 and 1916, resulting in the race being run several days late.

Odds on favourites rarely win the race

This isn't really a custom, but it's certainly an unusual part of Melbourne Cup lore. In fact, it's so unusual for horses priced under Evens to win the race that arguably the greatest racehorse in human history is the only one to have achieved this feat to date. We're referring, of course, to Phar Lap who won the Melbourne Cup priced at 8/11 in in 1930.

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7 things you didn’t know about the Melbourne Cup