Melbourne Cup Beginners Guide
The first Tuesday in November may represent just another day on the British sporting calendar. However, things are a little different down under, with this date in the diary signalling one of the standout moments of the Australian sporting year. In terms of the Aussie horse racing scene, it simply doesn’t get any bigger than this, with the historic Melbourne Cup effectively being the Australian equivalent of the Aintree Grand National in terms of widespread public interest, prestige, and huge betting turnover.
Widely referred to as “The Race That Stops A Nation”, those in the Melbourne locale, much of the wider Victoria region, and all public servants are granted an official Public Holiday to take in the race, which serves as the headline act at the week-long Melbourne Spring Carnival. Elsewhere in the nation, a widespread epidemic of sick days suggests many Australians take an unofficial public holiday of their own.
What is the Melbourne Cup?
First run back in 1861, this 2m flat handicap is the jewel in the crown of the beautiful Flemington racecourse and the event that all Australian trainers – and those from much further afield – want to win. A big part of that appeal is the astronomical A$8 million in prize money on offer - A$4.4 million of which goes to the winner. That total prize pool translates to around £4.8 million, making the Melbourne Cup the richest handicap contest on the planet and amongst the most valuable turf races of any description.
Who Runs in the Race?
The event is open to runners age three and older, be they colts, fillies, mares, or geldings. With a maximum field of 24, those runners with the highest rating will make the final cut, in addition to the winners of 13 guaranteed “win and your in” qualifying contests, which include the Doncaster Cup and Irish St. Leger.
The weights carried on the day are determined by the handicapper of the Victoria Racing Club using Quality Handicap criteria; the more talented the horse, the more weight they carry. Official ratings are part of the process, but other factors are considered, including age and previous performance in similar events. Overall, the process is very similar to that employed when assigning weights ahead of the Grand National.
In comparison to a standard handicap, the most talented runners tend to be less stringently penalised under Quality Handicap conditions, with the aim of attracting a higher class of horse. Expect to see a host of Group 1 winners amongst the field, including contenders previously sighted in the British and Irish Classics.
An International Affair
The Aussies are never easy to beat on their own turf and boast the best overall record in their flagship event. Nevertheless, there is almost always a strong international flavour to the race, and the raiders have been known to upset the locals and plunder the prize.
Dermot Weld was the first Northern Hemisphere-based trainer to win when sending out Vintage Crop in 1993. Dermot has since been joined by fellow Irishman Joseph O’Brien, who won in 2017 and 2020. British, French, German, and Japanese runners also feature on the 21st Century roll of honour.
One of the Most Watched and Bet-on Races in the World
Over 250,000 racegoers flock to Flemington racecourse over the course of the Spring Carnival, with Melbourne Cup Day regularly seeing a crowd north of 100,000. Added to that number are over 2.5 million TV viewers in Australia, in addition to millions more around the world.
That interest extends into the betting turnover, with Aussie punters placing 200-250 million Australian dollars worth of bets on the big race each year – not quite so much as the £300 million attracted by the Aintree Grand National, but then Britain’s population is more than double that of Australia.
Aussie Bet Types
The menu of betting choices available to Australian punters is much like our own, with the following wager types attracting much of the cash:
- Win - A straight bet on the horse to win
- Each Way - Two equally staked bets. One on the horse to win, and another to finish in the placed positions
- Place - A single bet on the horse to finish in the placed positions
For the more adventurous, what are known as Exotic Bets are also available:
- Exacta - Pick the first and second-placed finishers in the correct order. The equivalent of a straight forecast bet
- Quinella - Pick two horses which must finish first and second in any order. The equivalent of the UK Reverse Forecast bet
- Trifecta - Pick the first, second, and third in the correct order. The equivalent of a straight tricast bet
- Boxed Quinella/Trifecta - This involves selecting three or more runners and covering all possible permutations of forecasts and tricasts. The equivalent of a combination forecast or tricast
- First Four - As the name suggests, this requires you to predict the first four finishers in the correct order. Tough to do, but the bet almost guarantees a decent payday if you are correct
Betting on the Melbourne Cup in the UK
Much like the Breeders Cup, Dubai World Cup, and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Melbourne Cup is a major international event. As such, the race benefits from extensive coverage at the best new betting sites and established British-based bookmakers. Simply navigate to the horse racing section of your favourite site, head to the daily races list on the day of the event, or the International Racing or Ante Post sections in advance, and place your bets. The last items on the list are to ensure you are fully stocked with coffee and set that alarm clock for the 4 a.m. start time.
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