A Melbourne Cup Retrospective


As it does at this time of year every year, The Melbourne Cup will again stop the nation when it is run at Flemington for the 157th time. With another horse set to write it’s name into the race’s folklore, we thought it timely to look back at a handful of chapters of The Melbourne Cup story that have gone before it.

150 YEARS AGO: 1867

First Cups King
The first ‘Cup’s King’: Etienne Livingston de Mestre

The first ‘Cup’s King’ wins again

After training Archer to victory in the first two Melbourne Cups, Etienne Livingston de Mestre was the undoubted king of the Melbourne Cup. After a clerical error saw Archer unable to defend his title in 1863, de Mestre vowed never to contest the Cup again. It would be a short lived vow however, with a horse named Tim Whiffler bringing him back to Flemington in 1867.

The race in only it’s seventh year, Cup Day had already been a half day public holiday in Melbourne for three years. Despite this, it took until 1873 for the Victorian Government to officially acknowledge the Cup as the reason for the public holiday until 1873.

In 2017, as per tradition, will be run on the first Tuesday in November. The 1867 race however, was run on a Thursday with it not moved to it’s iconic date on a Tuesday until 1875.

In 1865, poet Adam Lindsay Gordon wrote a poem in which a horse name Tim Whiffler won the Melbourne Cup. There wouldn’t have been many who would have placed much stock in Gordon’s flowing yarn. That is until they saw the field for the 1867 race, where not just one, but two Tim Whiffler’s would compete.

To save confusion for race goers the two would be referred to as ‘Sydney Tim’ and ‘Melbourne Tim’. What became of Melbourne Tim seems to be lost to history and he may well be still running out at Flemington if the scant record of his final placing is to be believed.

tim whiffler
‘Sydney Tim’: Tim Whiffler one of two horses of the same name to run in the 1867 Melbourne Cup.

As for ‘Sydney Tim’, he would give de Mestre his third cup triumph. The first ‘Cup King’ would win a further two times in 1877 and 1878. His record of five wins could well have been greater if not for his self imposed exile or tragic events in 1876. In that year de Maestre again had the favourite for the Cup but the horse, Robin Hood, would never reach Flemington. A severe storm sank the ship transporting Robin Hood and ten other horses on route to Melbourne and their date with Australia’s biggest race.

Depite this, his record of five wins would remain the record for trainers for nearly a century. It was not until Gold and Black saluted for Bart Cummings in the 1977 race that de Mestre would surrender his hold on his place in history. That said, never, in his 12 wins, would Cummings train a horse with the same name as one of his rivals.

100 Years Ago: 1917

Westcourt wins 1917 Melbourne Cup
‘An Exciting Finish. Melbourne Cup 1917/ Won By D.W. Seaton’s W Westcourt. Distance 2M Weight 8st 5lb/ Time 3m 26 3/4s. Ridden By W.H. Mclachlan, Some Chips and Loss to Borders’
The 1917 Champion: Westcourt

Westcourt proves the vets wrong

Westcourt’s 1917 Melbourne Cup triumph was a reward for perseverance in the face of adversity. After a standout year as a two year old, ossification of his foreleg played havoc with his prepartion and cause a vet to advise the owner, D.U. Seaton, that his 1915 Melbourne Cup Runner Up was ‘hopelessly broken down’ and would never have the chance to improve on it’s close shave with Australia’s greatest race.

Seaton would not be deterred and Westcourt, under the watchful eye of trainer Joe Burton, continued to be prepared for another shot at greatness. “Right through his preparation, in which the horse showed wonderful willingness, we had always to watch the leg very carefully,” Burton told The Queenslander newspaper after Westcourt’s Cup win. “We were so uncertain about his leg that the stable had not a shilling on him until a few days before the race.”

For Burton and owner D. U. Seaton, Westcourt’s victory would prove their only taste of success in the Cup, something which could not be said of jockey Bill McLaughlin. The Great-Grandfather of legendary trainer Lee Freedman, the 1917 Cup saw McLaughlin become the first jockey to claim three wins in the great race.


Neck and Neck: Westcourt and Lingle battle it out for the 1915 Melbourne Cup.


50 Years Ago: 1967

red handed 1


Cummings 1967
Familiar sight: Cummings and the Cup.


Three in a row for Cummings

The 1967 Melbourne Cup win by Red Handed completed a hat-trick of victories for Bart Cummings. Somewhat poetically, his third crown coming a century after the man he would surpass as ‘Cup’s King’ achieved the same feat.

Red Handed was steal when purchased by Cummings for 870 guineas. The lowly price in large part owing to a club foot and a kick to the head as a yearling that resulted in the nerves down one side of his face being paralysed.

Red Handed missed his date with the 1966 Melbourne Cup after suffering an injury from a fall during the Caulfield Cup earlier in the spring campaign of that year. The 5-year-old Chestnut was ready to fire the following year. Red Handed was equal favourite for the race and was the subject of a spectacular betting standoff between Bookie Bill Waterhouse and renowned punter Felipe Ysmael.

While much of the credit for Red Handed’s triumph has been placed at the feet of Cummings, it took a spectacular ride from Roy Higgins to seal the deal. With the race seemingly out of reach with Red Handed with a furlong to go, the Hall of Fame jockey was able to summon one last effort out of the giant hearted chestnut to claim the race by a neck from Red Crest.

red handed
Like a thief in the night: Higgins guides Red Handed past Red Crest to claim the 1967 Cup.


25 Years Ago: 1992


Subzero 3
Leading the way: Subzero runs away from the field in the final stretch of the 1992 Cup.


subzero 2The people’s champion ‘rains’ supreme

There haven’t been too many more popular horses than Subzero and his upset victory in 1992 over the short priced Veandercross was one of the more celebrated in recent times.

Perhaps Australia’s most celebrated grey, Subzero’s win was shaped in a large part by the conditions of the day. Heavy rain during the lead up to the race left the track heavily deteriorated but had no effect on ‘Subbie’. Expertly guided by Greg Hall, who would claim his first victory, Subzero thrived in the wet conditions to beat the field home by two lengths.

While the majority of those watching celebrated Subzero’s victory, those in the camp of beaten favourite Veandercross bemoaned the midrace tactics of jockey Shane Dye.

None of this concerned winning trainer Lee Freedman, for whom the Melbourne Cup capped a spectacularly successful 1992 campaign. It was a second win for Freedman; who would end his career with five wins leaving him level with Etienne Livingston de Mestre, behind Bart Cummings in second place for all-time cup wins.

Subzero would retain his place as a people’s champion for many years to come. A beloved figure, he regularly returned to the scene of his success as Clerk of the Course at Flemington for many years after his racing career came to an end. In this role, and in many promotional appearances, he became a defacto Melbourne Cup mascot until arthritis saw him finally retired to paddock. Even in his golden years he remains a crowd puller with many school groups and fans making the trek out to see him in well earned retirement.


Who will it be that will write their name on to the long list of winners that already includes the likes of Tim Whiffler, Westcourt, Red Handed and Subzero? Pundits, experts and one day a year punters will all have their system to try and predict who it will be. The only thing we do know for sure is that at 3pm a crowd in excess of 100,000 at Flemington and a television audience in the millions will cheer on 23 horses all desperate to write their name into history.

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