The Melbourne Cup

Page 1 – Introduction

Kiwi wins the 1983 Melbourne Cup
Kiwi wins the 1983 Melbourne Cup

'…and here comes Kiwi out of the blue!'

The Melbourne Cup is described in Australia as ‘the race that stops a nation’. But the Cup has become just as much a part of New Zealand life. On the first Tuesday in November every year, at around 5 p.m., New Zealand and Australia come to a standstill for about 3 minutes and 20 seconds for the call of the Melbourne Cup.

The Melbourne Cup is New Zealand’s single biggest betting event. For many Kiwis it is their once-a-year trip to the TAB. It is the TAB’s biggest betting race of the year – about 4.5 times as many bets are placed on it as on the next biggest race, the New Zealand Trotting Cup. In 2013 Kiwi punters invested $9.3 million on the race - the highest total ever. The TAB estimates that 10% of the New Zealand population have a bet on the race, but the real number is much higher if you take into account the numerous workplaces throughout the country that run sweepstakes. People with little or no racing knowledge enter the draw and then crowd around a television with their workmates to watch ‘the great race’.

One of the reasons the Melbourne Cup has become such an ingrained part of New Zealand culture is the great success our horses have enjoyed in the race. Since its inception in 1861, 41 New Zealand-bred horses have won the Melbourne Cup. New Zealand-bred horses won 33 of the 55 Cups contested between 1947 and 2001.

But by 2013 fears were being expressed that New Zealand’s run of success in the Cup might have ended. For the second year in a row, no Kiwi galloper lined up in the event. In recent times, hardy stayers from Europe have been entered in greater numbers and enjoyed considerable success. New Zealand increasingly breeds and prepares horses for the shorter races which are much more common in Australasia and Asia than gruelling ‘two-mile’ races like the Melbourne Cup.  One leading New Zealand trainer pointed out that with ‘only three two-mile in races in Australia currently that anybody really wants to win’, it was hard to justify the investment of time and money needed to prepare horses for such a limited programme.  Their northern counterparts have more opportunities to race over greater distances and compete for sizable prize-money. With few opportunities and low stakes in New Zealand, some wonder if Efficient (2007) may go down in history as New Zealand’s last Melbourne Cup winner.

Some famous NZ winners

Our first winner

Newspaper headline

The first New Zealand-bred winner of the Melbourne Cup was Martini Henry in 1883. Named after a type of rifle, Martini Henry won by two lengths in a time of 3 minutes and 30.5 seconds. So easy was his victory that his jockey ‘never whipped him from start to finish’. more...

Carbine, 1890

Carbine

Modern-day fields in the Melbourne Cup are limited to 24 horses. When Carbine won in 1890 he was in a field of 39. Carbine set a new race record despite carrying 66 kg, the most weight ever carried by a winner. Carbine was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. more...

Phar Lap, 1930

Phar Lap in 1930

Of the 41 Kiwi-bred winners, Phar Lap stands out. Timaru-born, he became a ray of sunshine during the lean years of the Great Depression. Phar Lap remains the shortest-priced favourite in Cup history, winning in 1930 at odds of 8-11. more...

Van der Hum, 1976

Van der Hum in 1976

The 1976 Melbourne Cup was one of the wettest on record. The visibility was so poor that the commentator could not pick up the runners until the closing stages of the race. The Kiwi stayer Van der Hum revelled in the conditions and was kicked home by champion New Zealand jockey Bob Skelton. more...

Kiwi, 1983

Kiwi in 1983

Live television coverage certainly helped raise the profile of the Melbourne Cup in this country – as exemplified by Kiwi’s victory in 1983. Kiwi was last at the turn, and his dash to victory was barely picked up by the commentators until the last few strides. more...

Empire Rose, 1988

Empire Rose in 1988

The gigantic mare Empire Rose had run second to Kensei in the 1987 Melbourne Cup. A year later she became the first mare to win the Cup since 1965. more...

 

Ethereal, 2001

Ethereal in 2001

Only 11 horses have won both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in the same year. Eight of these have been Kiwi-bred, with the most recent being Ethereal in 2001. Ethereal’s victory gave New Zealander Sheila Laxon the distinction of being the first woman to officially train a Melbourne Cup winner.  more...

How to cite this page

'The Melbourne Cup', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/the-melbourne-cup, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Aug-2014

Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about The Melbourne Cup

What do you know?

Merv Brown

Posted: 05 Apr 2011

In 1916, SASANOF became the first ever NZ bred, owned, and trained horse to win the Melbourne Cup. Owned by Mr W.G.Stead, trained by Murray Hobbs. Stead later bred CATALOGUE, the 1938 Cup winner.