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Melbourne Cup looming large

By By Phillip Quay

Published: 11:28AM Thursday November 01, 2007 Source: ONE Sport

The Melbourne Cup runs at 5pm on Tuesday November 6.

If you're thinking of doing any trans-Tasman business on Tuesday November 6 - forget it.

Because on the first Tuesday in November every year, for around 3 minutes 20 seconds, New Zealand and Australia come to a standstill before a television or radio for the call of the Melbourne Cup.

Many try their luck with a bet, just this one day a year. And the new punters have every chance of picking a winner, neck and neck with the experts, because of the distance and the handicap conditions of this unique race, says New Zealand Racing Board Racing Manager Michael Dore.

"The Melbourne Cup is as ingrained in New Zealand culture as it is in its homeland, in part because of our track record at raiding its spoils," Mr Dore says.

"It's the single biggest betting event of the year, with Kiwis last year betting around $9.3m on their slice of the big race action. They also head for the racetrack to share in the action, with carnival-style racedays held at Auckland's Ellerslie, Wellington's Trentham, and Dunedin's Wingatui racecourses, winding up with the Melbourne Cup on the big screen."

The New Zealand thoroughbred breeding industry has played a significant role in Melbourne Cup history over the years.

The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861 at Flemington race course and was won by Archer. It has been run every year since - through two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the good times too, the Melbourne Cup has marched on.

It's the peak day in a Spring Racing Carnival that runs for 50 days, from early October to late November every year. And it's huge. Melbourne Cup Day has been a public holiday in Victoria since 1877. Last year more than 100,000 people thronged to Flemington Racecourse for the Cup. And during the Carnival, attendees spent $20m on dressing up for the occasion - with the biggest style investment made in shoes and hats.

"New Zealanders don't get the day off, but they have good reason to take a very close interest,' Mr Dore says. Around 26% of overseas visitors at the Carnival were Kiwis in 2005.

And the fact that New Zealand-bred horses have won 28 of the past 50 Melbourne Cups will help explain the keen interest, he says. "In all, New Zealand-breds have won 41 Melbourne Cups; 19 of the winners have also been owned in New Zealand.

The first New Zealand-bred winner of the Melbourne Cup was Martini Henry (1883). The first NZ-owned winner was Apologue (1907).

Mighty New Zealand-bred Phar Lap was one of the best remembered and internationally renowned Melbourne Cup winners. Timaru-born, he became the hero of Australian race crowds during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The mighty chestnut won on all four days of the 1930 Flemington Spring Carnival including the Melbourne Cup carrying 62.5 kgs.

Who could forget Kiwi's dashing last-to-first Melbourne Cup victory in 1983 in the hands of Jim Cassidy. Kiwi put the small central North Island township of Waverley on the map as well as his owner-trainer "Snow" Lupton.

Eight of the 11 horses that have won the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup in the same season have been Kiwi-breds. The most recent of these was the New Zealander Sheila Laxon-trained Ethereal who completed the famous double in 2001.

From 2003 to 2005 the Melbourne Cup was won by the now retired champion racemare Makybe Diva in an unprecedented 'three-peat'.

This year's Kiwi chances

This year there are a number of chances from New Zealand-bred horses contesting the Melbourne Cup on November 7. The outcome of two races in Australia this weekend will have an impact on the final field in the cup - and the odds on New Zealand horses that make it through to the final Melbourne Cup Field

Among New Zealand's best hopes this year are:

Princess Coup: Eye-catching run for third in the Caulfield Cup and previously had won the $2 million Kelt Capital Stakes in New Zealand. Last season she won the New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham. Top-class mare. Trained by Mark Walker from Matamata and to be ridden by experienced New Zealand horseman Noel Harris.

Eskimo Queen: Grinding run in the Cox Plate in which she stuck on gamely. Needed that run and will be tougher to beat in the Melbourne Cup for which she has been touted as a leading chance all spring. Trained by Mike Moroney from Matamata who has already won the Melbourne Cup with Brew (2000).

Mandela: Winner of the Geelong Cup last year and not too far away in last year's Melbourne Cup when finishing ninth. Handy stayer from Richard Yuill's Pukekohe stable. Will be competitive chance.

Master O'Reilly: Winner of the Caulfield Cup in brilliant fashion and traditionally that race is an extremely good guide to the Melbourne Cup. A total of 11 horses have completed the Caulfield/Melbourne Cups double and most of these have been New Zealand-bred horses. Has struck a purple patch of form at the right time.

Efficient: Won the Victoria Derby at Flemington racecourse last year with an amazing turn of foot in the final stages. He has the staying prowess to be a royal chance and has shown enough promise in his racing this spring to suggest he's a leading contender. The distance will be right up his alley.

Some Highlights, Facts, Figures on the Melbourne Cup

1861 The first running of the Melbourne Cup won by Archer trained by Etienne De Mestre. The Cup is initially run on a Thursday.
1875 Cup is first run on a Tuesday.
1877 The first Tuesday in November was declared a public holiday in Victoria.
1925 The ABC first provides radio broadcast of the Melbourne Cup.
1930 Phar Lap, bred in Timaru and by now Australian-owned, won the Melbourne Cup. He was the shortest priced favourite in the history of the race. He had to be hidden away at Geelong before the race after an attempt was made to shoot him, and only emerged an hour before the race time of the Cup.
1946 Photo-finish System is first introduced to Flemington.
1958 First Cup start from starting stalls.
1961 Introduction of the Totalisator Agency Board in Victoria (NZ's TAB began at 1951).
1962 Fashions on the Field first held at the Carnival.
1965 Light Fingers wins the Melbourne Cup to provide trainer Bart Cummings with his first win in the race.
1972 Metric system is introduced and Cup is now run over 3200 metres, slightly shorter than the traditional two mile distance.
1985 First million dollar Melbourne Cup.
1987 Maree Lyndon is the first female to ride in the Cup on Argonaut Style.
1999 Rogan Josh wins the Melbourne Cup to give trainer Bart Cummings his record eleventh winner.
2001 New Zealander Sheila Laxon, with NZ-bred Ethereal, becomes the first woman to train a Melbourne Cup winner.
2005 Makybe Diva becomes the first horse to win three Melbourne Cups (2003, 2004 & 2005).
2006: Delta Blues becomes the first Japanese winner of the Melbourne Cup.

The Melbourne Cup trophy is valued at A$80,000 and is made of 34 pieces of hand-beaten 18 carat gold and has a lathe-produced base.

For novice punters, the The $10 Big Race Pack is a great way to get the best of the excitement. Pick one horse, and your $10 gets you:

$3 each way (for a payout whether your horse wins or gets a place)
$1 Quinella (the TAB computer picks another horse; if it comes second, you get the Quinella payout)
$3 Trifecta (the TAB computer picks two other horses, and if they place 2nd and 3rd, you get the Trifecta payout)