The first racemeeting was held on the rough river flats beside the Maribyrnong River in March 1840 when the town of Melbourne was barely five years old. This was just two years after Melbourne's first racemeeting, near present-day Southern Cross railway station.

Australia's premier racecourse
The first racemeeting was held on the rough river flats beside the Maribyrnong River in March 1840 when the town of Melbourne was barely five years old. This was just two years after Melbourne's first racemeeting, near present-day Southern Cross railway station.
Provenance of land and the name
Flemington was first known as the Melbourne Racecourse. The original approach road from Melbourne crossed Moonee Ponds Creek at Mt Alexander Road and passed through a property owned by James Watson. He named the property Flemington after his wife Elizabeth's hometown – Flemington in Morayshire, Scotland. He built the Flemington Hotel there in 1848 and a small township grew up around it. The course was not therefore, as long thought, named after early settler Robert Fleming, whose home was in Brunswick. The name Flemington was commonly used for the racecourse by the late 1850s.

At the time of the first racemeeting in 1840 the land was acquired from the Lang brothers and regarded by the government as Crown Land. Furthermore, the site was technically governed by New South Wales (the Port Phillip District only became the separate colony of Victoria in 1851). It was the Governor of New South Wales who formally ordered that a site of 352 acres be considered as a public racecourse in 1848, and he appointed six men as trustees of the racecourse area. In 1871, the government passed a Victoria Racing Club Act which made the club the trustees of the racecourse.
Launch of the Victoria Racing Club
The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) evolved from two earlier rival clubs, the Victoria Turf Club (1852) and Victoria Jockey Club (1857), who disbanded to create the new club in 1864. They had previously run their own separate racemeetings at the racecourse. Before the Victoria Turf Club began, self-appointed committees of interested horse owners had organised the annual races.

Flemington became a marvel under the early administration of the VRC. First secretary Robert C. Bagot and his successor Henry Byron Moore improved all facets of the racecourse – for horses, trainers and the public – to make Flemington a premier sporting and recreation centre.

From 1864 until the end of 2001, the VRC acted as the principal authority responsible for the conduct of racing in Victoria (Racing Victoria Ltd now fulfils that role). In August 2006, the VRC was incorporated to become Victoria Racing Club Limited. The Club is governed by a Board of Directors, elected by the Members of the Club. 

Currently, the Club employees 184 staff, aside from its sizeable event-based workforce contingent, in order to run 25 racemeetings per season including the world-renowned Melbourne Cup Carnival.
Autumn origins of Flemington racing
The first Melbourne races were run annually in the autumn.

In 1854, the Victoria Turf Club (VTC) decided to run a spring meeting as well, when the countryside was at its best and the weather the most dramatic. The VTC conceived the idea of the Melbourne Cup, a handicap race over two miles with a rich prize. This was first run in November 1861 and attracted top inter-colonial horses, including the winner, Archer, from New South Wales.

The newly formed Victoria Racing Club (VRC) took over the race in time for its fourth running, in 1864, and has run it at Flemington every spring since that time.
Melbourne Cup becomes 'the race that stops a nation'

Melbourne's great wealth and growth from the gold rush era of the 1850s to the land boom of the 1880s made the city the most dynamic in Australia. The Melbourne Cup rose to fame as a social and fashion event as well as the national sporting highlight of the year.

By the 1880s Flemington was attracting crowds estimated at 100,000 for Cup Day. Melbourne Cup Day on the first Tuesday in November has been a public holiday for the city since 1875, and is celebrated as a special day around the country.

The VRC has constantly improved standards of comfort and accommodation at Flemington, with $26.2 million spent on improvements in the years 2000-2004, in addition to the $45 million grandstand completed in 2000. In 2018 The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) proudly opened the doors to the new $128 million Club Stand.

There was barely standing room on the lawn and many ladies were unable to find a seat for the whole day. The Paddock was overcrowded to excess and the Hill was simply a mass of human beings. It has reached a stage now that almost everyone in Melbourne goes to the Spring racing.

- Australasian Newspaper (1871)

Today, the Melbourne Cup is the richest handicap race held in Australia, and the prize money and trophies make it among the richest horseraces in the world.

Where did it all begin?
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.
The first Tuesday in November
While the Cup was first run on a Thursday, in 1875 it changed to a Tuesday and has normally been run on the first Tuesday in November each year. In three of the five years during World War II (1942, 1943 and 1944) it was held on a Saturday.
Winners made champions
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.
Evolution of the trophy
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.