Horse racing and the Melbourne Cup

A guide to research and history of the Melbourne Cup and horseracing

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Alex Gionfriddo
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Subjects: Art & architecture

Some history about the Melbourne Cup and horse racing

The intention of this resource guide is to highlight the range of horse racing sources held by the Library, and to link to online image and print resources.

This will then enable the user to access Melbourne Cup material and for any horse racing research.


The first Melbourne Cup was run on Thursday 7, November 1861, before a crowd of about 4,000. The race was won by Archer.  Unfortunately two horses died after falling in the race.

In 1870, some 20,000 people attended and by 1880 the estimated crowd had reached 100,000.

Painting of mounted Horses standing on the Flemington racetrack. The 1865 Melbourne Cup winner, Toryboy, is the grey horse in the middle of the picture. Grandstand is on the right, with a cloudy sky and hills in the background of the painting.

[Toryboy, winner of the Melbourne Cup 1865] [picture] / Samuel Salkeld Knights  H6705.
Toryboy won the race 4 years after being unplaced in the first Cup.

The holiday

Image of a section of The Argus newspaper, dated 3 Nov 1865 p 4, final column. Description of how many businesses shut after noon for the running of the Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup was initially run on Thursday and it was not until the carnival of 1875 that it was switched to a Tuesday.

As early as 1865, Cup day was a half-holiday in Melbourne for public servants and bank officials. Various businesses also closed at lunchtime.

It took some years before the purpose of the declared holiday was acknowledged in the Victoria Government Gazette. The Gazette of 31 October 1873  announced that the following Thursday (Cup Day) be observed as a bank and civil (public) service holiday.

Jockeys & trainers

In the modern era, several jockeys have ridden multiple winners of the Cup. These include Harry White with four, Jim Johnson, Jack Purtell , Glen Boss and Damien Oliver three each, and Roy Higgins two.

A long way in front on the list of winning trainers is Bart Cummings with 12. Two trainers, Etienne de Meistre and Lee Freedman have five wins. John Tait (19th century) and Walter Hickenbotham and R Bradfield (both late 19th and early 20th century) with four are next in line.

The sesquicentenary of the Melbourne Cup

The 2010 Melbourne Cup saw the 150th running of the race.  The Cup was won by the French trained Americain ridden by Gerald Mosse.

Black and white illustration of the running of the 1883 Melbourne Cup, with the horses running around a bend



'Martini Henry' winning the Cup in 1883

Illustration of jockey silk top olive green and gold sash, red cap, gold whip, and black boots with gold tops.

See you at the Melbourne Cup: First Tuesday in November [picture] / Shattock. H96.108/6

Black and white print of a woodcut showing Carbine with jockey, holding a clear lead, looking back at rival horses and their jockey's brandishing whips.


Carbine wins the Cup. This image provides an interesting comparison with the image of the 1890 Cup on the Racing terms page.