There are a multitude of prestigious races which take place around Australia over the course of the year, but the Melbourne Cup stands heads and shoulders above the rest as the most significant. So just why is this race so popular?
For starters, there is an incredible amount of history and tradition associated with the great race. It was first run way back in 1861, when Archer saluted in an eventful inaugural edition of the race, meaning there is 160 years of history associated with it. When it began, it certainly didn’t have the same level of esteem surrounding it as it does today – in fact, in that first year, just 4,000 attendees turned up to Flemington to watch. Within just 20 years, however, that number had ballooned incredibly to almost 100,000.
The prize money
When Archer won that first edition of the Melbourne Cup, his connections were awarded with £710 and a gold watch. Fast forward 160 years, and the race is one of the richest in the world, with a whopping $8 million in total prize money handed out, $4.4 million of which goes to the winner.
Only a handful of races can lay claim to having a larger prize pool than that number across the entire planet. One of those is the recently created Everest, which takes place in Sydney and has been run since just 2017, while among the other richer races are the $20 million Saudi Cup and the $12 million Dubai World Cup.
Clearly, the huge amount of money on offer for competitors in the Melbourne Cup plays a major role in its significance. It invariably means that the race attracts the best stayers in the country and, more recently, from around the world, and subsequently adds enormously to the high esteem in which the race is held.
The public holiday
The aforementioned drastic increase in popularity which occurred in the early years of the Melbourne Cup was accelerated by the development of a public holiday throughout the state of Victoria on the big day, which happened in 1871 – just ten years after the race was first run.
Having the day off allowed people around the state to actually watch and focus on the race, which invariably enabled it to develop into the biggest in the calendar. Particularly given that it is held on a Tuesday – unlike many of the biggest races in Australia which take place on a Saturday – having the day off is vital in its popularity and without it, the race would likely be far less anticipated and a lot less popular. 150 years after it began, the public holiday is still circled on the calendar of many Victorians, and is a large reason for its popularity.
Ultimately, perhaps the best explanation for the high regard in which the Melbourne Cup is held is the fact that popularity begets popularity. Its early growth led to the creation of a public holiday, which further increased popularity, which in turn helped contribute to an increase in sponsorships, an increase in prize money, and an increase in quality. All of these things mean that now, 160 years after it first became a part of Australia’s sporting calendar, the Melbourne Cup holds pride of place as the most significant race in the country – and one of the biggest in the world.