Over the course of its 160-year history, the Melbourne Cup has had more than its fair share of controversy. Here are four of the moments that got tongues wagging the most during the race’s history.
1. First race carnage
The inaugural edition of the Melbourne Cup didn’t go exactly as planned. For starters, the city was mourning the deaths of famous explorers Burke and Wills, and the crowd of 4,000 was significantly less than anticipated as a result. Four horses were scratched on the morning of the race, leaving a field of just 17, another bolted just before the race began, while three of the remaining starters fell during the race, two of whom tragically died. Archer swept clear to a six length victory, meaning that at least the result was clear-cut enough, but the chaos which engulfed the first running of the event was the major takeaway from the day.
2. A drunken John Kerr
Melbourne Cup Day, and indeed the entire Spring Racing Carnival, is no stranger to alcohol-fuelled mishaps, but typically they are reserved for excitable patrons rather than politicians attending the event. Not so in 1977. After Black and Gold won the race to hand Bart Cummings the fourth of what would ultimately be a record-breaking 12 Melbourne Cup victories, Governor-General John Kerr took to the podium to present Cummings with the Cup. Clearly under the influence, his speech was strange to say the least, and close to 50 years later the 1977 Melbourne Cup is more remembered for his murmerings than the race itself.
3. The most junior of jockeys
Briseis’ 1876 Melbourne Cup win is still, almost 150 years later, mired in controversy as a result of the jockey who rode her to victory. At the time, jockeys as young as 13 were allowed to ride in the Cup - something which would be impossible to fathom in the 21st century. Even more impossible to fathom, however, is a jockey even younger than that riding, which many believe Peter St. Albans was. Question marks surrounded his age from the moment Briseis won the event, many of which still exist to this day, and though his exact age at the time of the victory is still up for debate, some believe he was as young as 11.
4. Might and Power edges out Doriemus
There have been many incredibly close Melbourne Cups over the course of the event’s long history, but the 1997 edition which saw Might and Power edge out Doriemus was one of the closest of them. With a couple of hundred metres to go, Might and Power was leading and looked likely to hold on, but 1995 winner Doriemus came from the clouds to mount a last minute challenge. The two passed the post virtually side by side, but Doriemus’ jockey Greg Hall raised his whip in celebration, assuming he had won. As it turned out, he had not, and a photo finish confirmed that his celebrations were premature, resulting in plenty of very disgruntled punters - and a few very happy ones, too.
There have been plenty of Melbourne Cup controversies throughout the race’s long and storied history, be they a result of the race itself, extra-curricular activities from exuberant politicians, or something else entirely. The above four are some of the most memorable, and will likely remain etched in the collective memory of racing fans for many years to come.