Flemington was fairly basic in the early days with little in the way of running rails or stands. The Melbourne Cup quickly became popular as a carnival with picnic parties, sideshows, celebrations and people showing off their latest fashions. Socialites, politicians and Australia's rich and famous attended the Cup right from the earliest days.
In 1861, at the first running of the Melbourne Cup, the race club committee could hardly have envisaged the Cup lasting a century and a half and growing to become a significant part of our social and sporting culture.
In front of an estimated crowd of 4000 people, Archer became the first winner of the Melbourne Cup. Victorians, and the wider Australian community, were already displaying their great passion for thoroughbred racing.
At the time of the first Cup, Victoria was experiencing the gold rush and many people had flocked to Melbourne, Bendigo and Ballarat in the hope of finding gold.
By 1880, 100,000 people would make the journey to Flemington to attend the Cup. As Melbourne’s population was only 290,000 at the time, this attendance was quite phenomenal, and many visitors came from the country and other Australian colonies, too. These were flourishing times as Melbourne continued to grow during and after the gold rush period.
Throughout the Melbourne Cup’s history there have been stories of endurance, scandal, controversy, tragedy and heroism involving great horses such as:
- Carbine (1890)
- Phar Lap (1930)
- Peter Pan (1932 and 1934)
- Comic Court (1950)
- Rising Fast (1954)
- Rain Lover (1968 & 1969)
- Kiwi (1983)
- Vintage Crop (1993)
- Might and Power (1997)
- Makybe Diva (2003, 2004 & 2005).
From Etienne de Mestre in the 1860s and 1870s, and Lee Freedman in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, who have both trained five Cup winners, to the ‘Cup’s King’ Bart Cummings, who has won 12 Cups since 1965, the Melbourne Cup is firmly entrenched as a horse trainer's ultimate accolade in thoroughbred racing.
The Lexus Melbourne Cup Trophy is a stunning 18 carat gold trophy noted for its three-handled "loving cup" design. It is a national icon embedded in Australia's cultural fabric and one of the most identifiable sporting trophies in the world.
The Cup, as we know it today, was designed by Mr James Steeth in readiness for the 1919 Melbourne Cup, won by Artilleryman. He was commissioned by the VRC to design a trophy which would be in keeping with the prestige of the race. The trophy was manufactured by Drummonds Jewellers, and Maurice Steeth took over crafting the Cup from his father following James’ death, yet following Maurice's premature death, it was left to his able assistant 'Lucky' Rocca to continue the tradition.
In 1980, the making of the Cup was then entrusted to Hardy Brothers Jewellers and the same processes that commenced in 1919 are still followed to this day. Hardy Brothers Jewellers Chief Executive Stuart Bishop is entrusted with this responsibility today. It is made of 44 pieces of gold metal, hand beaten over 250 hours.
Melbourne Cup trophy timeline
1861: No trophy presented however a gold watch was rumoured to have been presented.
1865: First year the trophy was awarded – an elaborate silver bowl on a stand, manufactured in England.
1867: Silver trophy from England shows 'Alexander Taming the Horse', the engraved name of the winning horse and the figure of the winged Victory.
1868 – 1875 : No mention of trophy presented.
1876: The first gold cup trophy manufactured in Victoria. An Etruscan shape with two handles. One side depicted a picture of a horserace with the grandstand and hill of Flemington in the background. The opposite side, inscribed on a crimson enamelled garter, featured the words "Melbourne Cup, 1876" and the name of the winning horse.
1877 – 1886: No trophy presented.
1887: A golden horseshoe mounted on a plush stand, valued at 100 sovereigns.
1888: Known as the "Centenary Cup", three horses appeared on a silver-plated base.
1890: This magnificent trophy reflected the opulence of the time. A silver ewer, salver and tazzas are representative of this magnificent trophy. The trophy was purchased by the VRC in 2000 and is on permanent display at the National Sports Museum at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne.
1891: A trophy measuring two feet in length and 15 inches high depicting a draped figure of Victory, standing on a pedestal, holding out an olive wreath to a jockey upon his horse.
1893: Multi-piece trophy of silver tankard, punch bowl and beakers.
1894 – 1898: Trophies were not presented while the economic depression engulfed the nation.
1900: A tea and coffee service was presented.
1908: A much ridiculed trophy design – a three-foot-long plaque of an embossed silver galloping horse – that some people thought resembled a greyhound.
1909 – 1911: Large two-handled silver cups.
1913: Silver epergne.
1914: This was the last year the Melbourne Cup Trophy was made in England. It had a long base with a horse on each end facing out and a chalice cup in the centre.
1915: A large rose bowl.
1916: The first gold cup is presented.
1918: Two-handled gold cup trophy.
1919: James Steeth's three-handled "Loving Cup" first introduced.
1973: Smaller Melbourne Cup miniatures are presented to the winning trainer and jockey.
2001: The Cup moves from 9ct to 18ct gold, valued at $80,000. A 2/3 height miniature of the Cup is presented to the trainer and jockey.
2005: The breeder of the Cup winner is presented with a Melbourne Cup half-sized Cup.
2008: The value of the Cup trophy is increased to $125,000 reflecting the rising price of gold. Trainer, jockey, strapper and breeder trophies are also increased bringing total value of winners’ trophies to $150,000.