Ten Things You Should Know: Melbourne Cup

1. First contested in 1861, the Melbourne Cup celebrates its 152th running in 2012 on the first Tuesday in November at Flemington racecourse. Celebrated as “The Race That Stops a Nation,” the 3200-meter (two-mile) handicap event typically draws an on-course crowd of well over 100,000 with millions tuning in across Australia and the world and punters placing bets totaling nearly A$150 million just on the Cup.

2. With a purse worth A$6 million (just over US$6.2 million), the Melbourne Cup is one of the world’s richest races, paying A$3.6 million to the winner, A$900,000 for second, A$450,000 for third, A$250,000 for fourth, A$175,000 for fifth, and A$125,000 from sixth to tenth place.

3. The race is now limited to 24 horses, based on qualifiers, but the most horses ever to run was 39 in 1890.

4. In 2008, the winner Viewed provided trainer Bart Cummings with his record 12th Melbourne Cup victory. At 84 years of age, Cummings will have two contenders in 2012: wily veteran Precedence and the German-bred Sanagas who spent most of 2011 in the U.S. where he captured the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup in November for Graham Motion.

5. The youngest jockey to win the Melbourne Cup was Peter St. Albans, who was eight days short of his 13th birthday when he won aboard the 3-year-old filly Briseis in 1876. He had previously ridden the filly as a 2-year-old to victory in the prestigious Doncaster Handicap against older horses, displaying a special bond that resulted in his record-setting partnership with her during the 1876 VRC spring carnival—she won the 12-furlong Victoria Derby on Saturday, the 24-furlong Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, and the 12-furlong Victoria Oaks on Thursday. Later, under the name Peter Bowden, St. Albans trained Forest King, runner-up in the 1891 Melbourne Cup.

6. The shortest price favorite to ever win the race was the legendary Phar Lap in 1930, going postward at odds of 8-11. The New Zealand-born gelding won carrying 138 pounds, although that was not the highest weight toted by a winner. That honor belongs to Carbine who, in 1890, won carrying over 144 pounds.

7. New Zealand-bred 1890 winner Carbine won 33 of 43 lifetime races, finishing out of the money only once. After several years at stud in Australia, he was sold to English interests and stood in Great Britain from 1895 until his death in 1914. Particularly through his son Spearmint and his daughters Catnip and Plucky Liege, Carbine has found a prominent position in bloodlines around the world, including those of Northern Dancer, Bold Ruler and Mr. Prospector.

8. Although rightly regarded as a showcase for Australian breeding, the Melbourne Cup has been won 40 times by New Zealand-bred horses. Europeans have had relatively little success, with five British winners and two Irish-breds although American-bred, French-raced Americain won in 2010 and French-bred Dunaden ruled in 2011. In 2006, Japanese-bred Delta Blues and Pop Rock ran one-two; both horses were descendants of the American-bred Sunday Silence. Five American-bred horses have won the Melbourne Cup: Americain (Dynaformer) in 2011, Media Puzzle (Theatrical) in 2002; Kingston Rule (Secretariat) in 1990; At Talaq (Roberto) in 1986; and Beldale Ball (Nashua) in 1980. Kingston Rule still holds the record winning time at 3:16.30. In addition to Americain who returns in 2012, American-bred Winchester (Theatrical) and Unusual Suspect (Unusual Heat) look to extend the recent success of foreign-born horses.

9. The first woman trainer to unofficially win the Melbourne Cup was Mrs. A. McDonald in 1938 with Catalogue, although since women could not be licensed as trainers, the horse raced in her husband’s name. In 2001, Sheila Laxon trained winner Ethereal to capture the Caulfield Cup/Melbourne Cup double. An interesting contender this year is Fiorente, trained by Gai Waterhouse, daughter of legendary trainer TJ Smith who won two Melbourne Cups: Toparoa in 1955, and Just a Dash in 1981. Irish-bred Fiorente has yet to run in Australia, but won the Group 2 Princess of Wales’ Stakes at Newmarket in July, beating the talented Joshua Tree who went on to capture the Grade 1 Pattison Canadian International. Gai also has a contender in the mare another Irish-bred, Glencadem Gold who won the 12-furlong Group 1 Metropolitan Handicap in early October.

10. The only horse to win the Melbourne Cup three times is the great mare Makybe Diva, who won consecutive Cups in 2003, 2004 and 2005 with jockey Glen Boss up. Watching her 2005 race, one can truly appreciate the magnitude of this staying challenge:

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