A Comprehensive Guide to the Melbourne Cup Carnival

Published by on March 29, 2023

Few events capture and hold the collective attention of the nation like the Melbourne Cup, famously trademarked as "the race that stops the nation™". Steeped in tradition and prestige, the Melbourne Cup Carnival attracts horses, trainers and punters from all over the world to iconic lawn of Flemington for four of the biggest races in the country jam-packed into a seven-day carnival.

"And so the grandstands made a brilliant and wonderful spectacle, a delirium of colour, a vision of beauty. The champagne flows, everybody is vivacious, excited happy.

"Day after day the races go on, and the fun and the excitement are kept at white heat; and when each day is done, the people dance all night so as to be fresh for the race in the morning." The eloquent description above was written by no other than Mark Twain, after he attended the Melbourne Cup in 1985.

It seems superfluous to try and add to the description of one of the American literary masters, but all we will say is that the 127 years since this was written, the carnival has not taken a backward step. In fact, it's only become bigger and better, if you can imagine.

Melbourne Cup Carnival 2023 schedule

The Melbourne Cup Carnival is the prize piece of the Australian Spring Carnival. It encompasses four race meets spread across the first week of November. The jewel in the crown, the Lexus Melbourne Cup, always takes place on the first Tuesday of November. See the full event calendar below.


Featured races: Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m), TAB Empire Rose Stakes (1600m), Penfolds Victoria Derby (2500m)

The first big race of the Melbourne Cup Carnival brings a special energy to the track as trainers, jockeys, punters and socialites converge to launch the biggest week in Australian racing. Off the track, prestige, glamour and style take centre-stage for "The Fashion Stakes" on Derby Day, where the traditional back and white dress code is incorporated flawlessly into the crowd of classy racegoers. 


Featured races: Darley Maribyrnong Plate (1000m), Hong Kong Jockey Club Stakes (1400m), Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m)

This is the big one. One of the most anticipated days on Australia's sporting calendar. A public holiday worthy celebration for over 130 years. This is the race that stops the nation™. Few events capture and hold national attention like The Melbourne Cup, and to be on the ground and feel the thundering rumble of hooves down the Flemington straight is a genuine bucket-list experience for any sporting fan.


Featured races: Kennedy Oaks (2500m)

Kennedy Oaks Day, also known as Ladies Day, is all about fascinators, fashion, food and friends; as the ladies (and gentlemen!) bring some extra colour and flair to the track! The Myer Fashions on the Field winners are announced on Oaks Day, with the on-track highlight being the $1 million Group 1 Kennedy Oaks, which will see the best three-year-old staying fillies battle for victory in the ultimate test of their staying credentials.


Featured races: Darley Champions Sprint (1200m), Kennedy Champions Mile (1600m), TAB Champions Stakes (2000m)

The final day of the Carnival includes three big Group 1 races, highlighted by the $3 million TAB Champions Stakes, the spring grand final for Australia’s best middle-distance horses. Off the track, revellers work hard to soak up the last of the Melbourne Cup Carnival festivities before the outfits are shipped to the dry cleaners for next year. Stakes Day is nicknamed 'Family Day' because of the relaxed atmosphere and plethora of entertainment for the whole family to enjoy.

Brief history of the Melbourne Cup

The idea of a horse race in Victoria known as the Melbourne Cup is credited to Frederick Standish, Chairman of the Victorian Racing Club. On Thursday 7 November 1861, 17 horses raced in the first Melbourne Cup in front of 4000 spectators.

A stallion from New South Wales named Archer was the first winner, ridden by jockey John Cutts and trained by Etienne de Mestre. The team won a prize of 710 gold sovereigns and a gold watch. The purse was increased to 810 gold sovereigns and the crowd doubled to over 7000 the next year to watch Archer defended his title successfully.

British bred horse Comedy King was the first foreign-bred horse to win the Melbourne Cup (1910), leading the way for hundreds of foreign horses and trainers to chase glory in Melbourne.

In 1930, arguably the most famous Melbourne Cup winner was crowned when Phar Lap took out the race. That week Phar Lap also won the Derby, Oaks and Stakes in an historic feat known as 'the Flemington onslaught'. This will never even be attempted again by one horse, not to mention successfully completed, etching Phar Lap's name in racing history forever as a hero of the people during the depths of The Great Depression.

In 1931 Phar Lap entered the Melbourne Cup with the heaviest handicap in Melbourne Cup history, ultimately finishing 8th. The next year he died under suspicious circumstances, rumoured to be poisoned while racing in the Americas.

In 1987, Maree Lydon became the first female jockey to ride in the Melbourne Cup, finishing 20th on Argonaut Style. Decades later, Michelle Payne would become the first female winner in 2015 on Prince of Penzance at record-breaking long odds.

Other famous females of The Cup include Makybe Diva, who is the only mare to have won the Melbourne Cup on multiple occasions and the only horse to win the race three times, taking the title in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Trainer Bart Cummings is regarded as the undisputed 'King of the Cup', winning 12 times between 1965 and 2008. Bart was inducted into the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame in 1991 and his son and grandson continue his legacy today.

The Melbourne Cup is literally the race that stops the nation, or at least the city, having been an official public holiday in metropolitan Melbourne and parts of Victoria since 1873.

Who won the Melbourne Cup in 2022?

The 2022 Melbourne Cup was won by Gold Trip, ridden by Mark Zahra. Emissary came in second, with High Emocean charging home in third. Overwhelming favourite Deauville Legend finished in fourth.

Experience the Melbourne Cup Carnival live in 2023

Featuring 8 Group 1 races and attracting around 300,000 people to the track each year, the Melbourne Cup Carnival has been the highlight of the Australian racing calendar for over 100 years. You can experience this historic event, steeped in tradition and synonymous with fun, fashion and entertainment this year with a Sportsnet Holidays travel package.

Our packages include pair official tickets to Lexus Melbourne Cup, Kennedy Oaks Day and Penfolds Victoria Derby Day with quality hotel accommodation and a range of unique Melbourne experiences!

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