Horse racing and the Melbourne Cup

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

Notable winners of the Melbourne Cup


Bells Chronicle 29 Sept 1861 p.3, article listing and describing the horses from De Meistre's team: Archer, Inheritor, Exeter.The first two Melbourne Cups were won by Archer, who was trained by Etienne de Meistre at Nowra on the south coast of New South Wales.

It was long rumoured that Archer walked overland for the race. However, as per this article, he actually arrived in style aboard the City of Sydney with two other De Meistre runners.

In 1863 De Meistre's cabled Cup entry for Archer did not reach the Victoria Turf Club office in time, due to Melbourne's Separation Day holiday.

When racing officials refused to compromise all NSW trainers boycotted the race and only seven horses ran. De Meistre vowed never to race in Melbourne again however, he had a change of heart and won another two cups with Tim Whiffler (1867) and Calamia (1878).

Keith W. Paterson has written a book about the trainer titled The master’s touch.

Probably the most popular winners of the race were Carbine in 1890 and Phar Lap in 1930. 

The win of Phar Lap has been well documented and the Library holds a range of items about his career. Phar Lap is on permanent display at Melbourne Museum.

 THE RACE FOR THE MELBOURNE CUP [VIC.] [cropped image] [picture] / F. A. Sleap [engraver]  IAN08/11/84/169. Black and white woodcut print of 1884 Melbourne Cup race, depicting Malau half a length ahead near the winning post. Foreground depicts hat wearing crowd following the race.Bresis, a 3 year old filly, won the Cup in 1876. She is not the only 3 year old filly to win the race however, she has a unique record because in six days she won the Victoria Derby, The Cup and the Oaks.

The most versatile horse to win the race was Malua. He won the Cup in 1884 and also had wins in feature races from 1100 metres to over 4800 metres in the Grand National Hurdle. He also sired Malvolio, the winner of the 1891 Cup.

When Subzero, the 1992 winner retired, he became well-known as a clerk of the course’s horse. He was also used by his handler Graham Salisbury in an educational role. He was taken to schools and children were able to pat him, feed him and sit on his back.

There have been four consecutive winners of the race. They are Archer 1861-62, Rain Lover 1968-69, Think Big 1974-75 and Makybe Diva who has the distinction of three wins in a row 2003-05.

In 2015 Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to ride the winner of the Melbourne Cup aboard Prince of Penzance trained by Darren Weir.

Born in 1985, Michelle is the youngest of the famous racing family. She has suffered serious injuries and falls during her career. The worst was in March, 2004 when she came down in a fall at Sandown Racecourse, Melbourne fracturing her skull and bruising her brain.

Her first Group 1 win was on Allez Wonder for Bart Cummings in the 2009 Toorak Handicap.

She is only the fourth female rider to have ridden in the Cup (she came 16th on Allez Wonder in 2009) and the news stories surrounding her win created a lot of interest. In September 2019 a feature film titled Ride like a girl, which focused on Michelle Payne's career and Melbourne Cup win, was released.

Notable placegetters

In looking at the history of the Cup, there are some interesting stories about non-winners.

For instance, Shadow King competed in four cups between 1930 and 1933, recording two second and two third placings.

Another memorable performance was by the champion mare Wakeful, who ran second in 1903 carrying 10 stone (or 63.5 kg). To put this in context, Makybe Diva carried 51 kg in her first Cup victory in 2003, 55.5kg in her 2004 triumph and 58 kg when she won her third consecutive Melbourne Cup in 2005.

Wakeful was the winner of 25 races from 44 starts and was unplaced only three times. Retired to stud, one of her foals, Night Watch, won the 1918 Cup.

In recent years Red Cadeaux started in the Melbourne Cup five times from 2011 to 2015. He came second three times and was unplaced twice.

In the 2015 Cup the ten year old gelding failed to finish due to a leg injury. While it was initially thought that he would recover after surgery, unfortunately he developed a blood clot and had to be humanely euthanized.

Illustration, black and white print: woodcut, of Darriwell and jockey running at Flemington.

Sketches on Cup Day [i.e. Melbourne Cup Day] [picture] [cropped image] /


Darriwell winning the 1879 Cup

Victorian Racing Calendar

The Victorian Racing Calendar contains a variety of useful information. It includes:

  • racing fixtures
  • lists of jockeys
  • licensed trainers
  • permits to train,
  • registration and leases
  • race results.
  • licensed farriers
  • registered bookmakers
  • registered colours

It was published monthly and for most of the twentieth century there is an index by name of horse to the results page.