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by Delwynne Fife

Known as "the celebration that stops a nation", Melbourne's Spring Racing Carnival is one of the biggest sporting events on Victoria's calendar. It ran from September 30 until November 18, 2009, reaching its zenith with the Melbourne Cup Day, which is declared a public holiday in Melbourne, at Flemington Racecourse.

There are other big race days too – Caulfield Cup Day at Caulfield Racecourse, Derby Day, Oaks Day and Emirates Day at Flemington and the Sandown Classic at Sandown Racecourse.

The Melbourne Cup was born in 1861, brainchild of Captain Frederick Standish, then chairman of the Victorian Racing Club (VRC) and it has gone on to become the greatest 3,200m horse race in the world. A horse named Archer won the inaugural race in front of a crowd of around 4,000 people. This year's race was won by Shocking and over 100,000 punters looked on.

The first $1million Cup was won in 1985 by What a Nuisance. On that day, the Prince and Princess of Wales watched the race from the stands.

The two most prolific jockeys in the Melbourne Cup were Bobbie Lewis and Harry White. Both rode in 33 Melbourne Cups and both scored four wins. The most famous horse to ever be ridden in the race has to be Phar Lap who was 13-8 odds on favourite in the 1930 race. These are the shortest odds ever given at the Melbourne Cup. He won by 10 lengths despite carrying a 136lb weight handicap. This was also the first ever race to be recorded in a ‘talkie' film.

But the Melbourne Cup isn't just about the horses. It's also about the fashion. In a bid to woo more women to the races, the 1960 VRC set up a sub-committee to promote “Fashions, Flowers and Favourites” at the centenary celebrations the following year. This has grown into what is now known as “Fashions on the Field at Flemington”. A men's competition was introduced in 2001 and a designer's prize in 2006. The prize pool exceeds $100,000 and includes trips for two to Paris, Hong Kong and Tahiti, clothing worth $10,000 and $5,000 in cash!

Next year's party should be bigger than ever with the Spring Racing Carnival celebrating 150 years!

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Posted by Delwynne Fife
09 Feb 2010

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