Public Holiday for 3min horse race?

Melbourne Cup Day

Every year, on the first Tuesday in November horses race for the Melbourne Cup and Australia 'stops' for three and a half minutes.

So why does a simple horse race captivate the entire country and beyond? Here are a few reasons:

It's the world's richest handicap race

1997 Melbourne Cup winner Might and Power
The 1997 Melbourne Cup winner Might and Power 

ABC: James Fettes

The race is held over a long distance - 3200 metres - and is a 'handicap' event - meaning that horses can be allocated extra weight to carry so that all those competing have an equal chance of winning. Up to 24 horses can run in the Cup and it is the richest handicap race in the world, with prizemoney of more than $A6.2 million dollars.

First run in 1861 on a Thursday, the Melbourne Cup has been run every year since - it didn't even stop during the two world wars - but these days it's held on the first Tuesday in November.

Cup Day is part of a 'carnival' of feature race days which include The Derby on the Saturday prior, Oaks Day on the Thursday after the Cup and Stakes Day which closes the Melbourne Cup Carnival on the Saturday following Melbourne Cup day.

It's a public holiday in parts of Australia

Fans at the Melbourne Cup parade, November 2, 2015.
Fans at the Melbourne Cup parade
 ABC News: Peter Lusted

Melbourne Cup Day was first declared a public holiday in Victoria in 1873 and was proclaimed on an annual basis until 1993 when the first Tuesday of November was written into the Public Holidays Act.

More than 100 000 people go to the track to see and be seen and many people outside of Melbourne and Victoria pause from their working day to watch the race on TV or listen to the race call on the radio.

In 1895, American author Mark Twain attended the Cup and observed that:

"Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me."

The tradition of taking a day off work for a horse race is popular - many regional areas in Victoria swap the Melbourne Cup holiday to observe a holiday on the day of their local Cup, including Geelong, Warrnambool and Kyneton.

People who live in Adelaide, South Australia observe a public holiday on the day the Adelaide Cup is run.
Many workplaces hold a 'Cup sweep' where colleagues pay a small fee to enter a draw and are given the name of a horse running the Melbourne Cup. The entry fees then become the prize pool to be distributed to people who drew the name of the winning horse and usually the place-getters as well. Sometimes the person whose horse came last gets their money back.

The fashion is (almost) as important as the race

Fashions on the Field entrants Elis Crewes and Athena Lin model their hats.
Fashions on the Field entrants 
 AAP: David Crosling

A major feature of the Melbourne Cup, and the Melbourne Cup Carnival, is fashion.

'Fashions on the Field' is a coveted fashion competition held every year at the Melbourne Cup and also at many racing carnivals across Australia.

The competition was first held in 1962 as a way to encourage more women to come to the Melbourne Cup and the initial objective was to the find "the smartest dressed women at the Carnival within economic restraints." At the original competition, prizes were categorised according to how much money the entrant had spent on her outfit: 30 pounds and under, 50 pounds and over and Most Elegant Hat. These days entrants can spend thousands of dollars!

English model Jean Shrimpton turned heads in 1965 when she attended Derby Day, one of the Melbourne Cup Carnival events, in a dress 10cm above the knee and without a hat, gloves or pantyhose. This controversial attire helped draw international attention to Melbourne's spring racing fashion.

Horses come from far and wide to compete

The Hon. James White's Martini-Henry, winner of the V.R.C. Derby and Melbourne Cup.
The Hon. James White's Martini-Henry, winner of the V.R.C. Derby and Melbourne Cup.

Supplied: State Library of Victoria

The Melbourne Cup includes a number of horses bred or trained overseas, many even taking out the coveted race. In 2016, 31 overseas nominations have been received for the Melbourne Cup including horses from Japan, France, Germany and New Zealand.

The first horse bred overseas to win the Melbourne Cup was New Zealand entrant Martini-Henry in 1883 and the five most recent Cup winners were all bred overseas; Fiorente (Ireland), Green Moon (Ireland), Dunaden (France), Americain (USA) and Prince of Penzance (New Zealand).

1993 winner Vintage Crop (Ireland) was flown to Australia only a few weeks before the race and is considered to be a turning point in the Cup's history as it showed horses could make the long journey from overseas and still be race fit.

Even the flowers are cultivated to be at their prime

Golden bunny rose at Flemington Racecourse
Golden bunny rose at Flemington Racecourse.

ABC: Jean Edwards

The Melbourne Cup Carnival is run at Flemington Racecourse which is famous for its colourful roses. There are tens of thousands of roses at the racecourse and more are planted every year when it is hoped they will be in bloom for Melbourne Cup Day.
Each day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival is allocated a flower, three of which are roses, and you will see many patrons wearing the flower of the day. Derby Day is a blue cornflower, Oaks Day is a pink rose and Stakes Day is a red rose.
Melbourne Cup Day is a yellow rose.

The names of winners have gone down in history

Phar Lap with jockey Jim Pike riding at Flemington race track circa 1930
Phar Lap with jockey Jim Pike riding at Flemington race track circa 1930.

Charles Pratt, State Library of Victoria

Although the horse that wins the Melbourne Cup often becomes a household name for a time, there are some Melbourne Cup winners who are more famous than others. In particular, horses which have won multiple Cups or have a story behind them.

The race's first winner, Archer is one of five horses to have won the race more than once with Makybe Diva is the only horse to win the Melbourne Cup three times: in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Media Puzzle's win in 2002 is most commonly remembered for the emotional tribute its jockey Damien Oliver paid to his late brother, Jason, who died the week before after falling off a horse while training. Media Puzzle and Oliver's story was made into a film in 2011.

In 2015 Michelle Payne made history as the first female jockey to win the race - on outsider Prince of Penzance.

1930 winner Phar Lap is arguably Australia's most famous horse. Born in New Zealand and trained in Australia, Phar Lap won a number of races during the Great Depression - the country's economic troubles considered to be one of the reasons people saw him as a hero. Phar Lap died in suspicious circumstances after winning the Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico. His story has also been made into a film.

The Cup itself is valued at over $175,000

The Melbourne Cup on a rock ledge with a blurred mine in the background
The 2016 Melbourne Cup on display at the Lake Cowal gold mine, from where the precious metal originated.

Supplied: Bland Shire Council

The Cup itself is an 18 carat gold trophy with three handles and is valued at more than $A175,000. It is hand-spun solid gold sourced from Australian mines and the timber base is made of Australian wattle. 
A new trophy is produced each year and is presented to the owner of the winning horse. There are also two $10,000 miniature Cup trophies presented to the winning trainer and jockey.
The three-handled design, referred to as a 'Loving Cup,' was first used for the trophy in 1919. Before that, the Cup took many shapes including three horses on top of a silver-plated base, a golden horseshoe and a controversial silver 'tea and coffee' service set.
Archer's win in the first Melbourne Cup earned his owner a hand-beaten gold watch. The first trophy was awarded in 1865.

It's been live to air since the early days of Australian broadcasting

The Coodabeens broadcast live for ABC Radio ABC 774
The Coodabeens broadcast live for ABC Radio.

ABC Melbourne

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) first broadcast the Melbourne Cup in 1925 - only three years after Australia's first radio licence was issued. At the time it was the Broadcasting Company of Australia, which later came under the ABC when it was officially formed in 1932. These days the Melbourne Cup is heard all over the world and is televised to an estimated 700 million people across 120 countries.