The Australian Cup is a $1m Group 1 weight for age race open to all horses. It is run over 2000m at Flemington every March.
It is Melbourne’s best weight for age race of the spring, in many ways the autumn equivalent of the Mackinnon Stakes.
However, it has a long and varied history, having been run over a variety of distances over the years. First run in 1863, when won by Barwon, it was initially run over 18 furlongs or 3600m. In 1943, it was reduced to 17 furlongs or 3400m. In 1963, it was run over the Melbourne Cup course and distance for one year only, before it faced the radical drop down to 10 furlongs (2000m). It has remained at that distance ever since.
It was originally a big handicap, the spring equivalent of the Melbourne Cup. In 1979, it became a weight for age race, but it reverted to a handicap in 1983. It was finally changed permanently to a weight for age race in 1987, the year of the incredible clash between the Cox Plate winner Bonecrusher and the Melbourne Cup winner At Talaq.
Perhaps the most infamous running of the race was the following year, in 1988. It was hyped as the “race of the decade” – a match between the bold Queenslander Vo Rogue and the immortal Bonecrusher. Record crowds turned up to Flemington, the race was shown live on free to air television – everyone was expecting a mighty contest. But, to the shock of all, Dandy Andy came from last and won, paying an incredible 125-1.
In 2004, at his final Melbourne appearance, Lonhro won in spectacular fashion. Boxed in, with nowhere to go, he had to check a number of times and looked a lost cause. But, under the urging of Darren Beadman, he somehow managed to get up and win.
Some of the notable winners, while the race was a staying handicap, included Woodman (1865, 1866), Tim Whiffler (1867), Nimblefoot (1871), Malua (1886), Trident (1887), Spearfelt (1927) and Welkin Prince (1962, 1963). As a middle distance handicap, the likes of Craftsman (1965, 1966), Bore Head (1967), Arctic Coast (1968), Gay Icarus (1971), Leilani (1975), Lord Dudley (1976) and Ming Dynasty (1978) were among the winners. Ming Dynasty (1980) also won the race when it became weight for age, along with Dulcify (1979), Hyperno (1981), Bonecrusher (1987), Vo Rogue (1989, 1990), Better Loosen Up (1991), Let’s Elope (1992), Veandercross (1993), Saintly (1996), Octagonal (1997), Northerly (2001, 2003), Lonhro (2004), Makybe Diva (2005) and Zipping (2010).
In 2011, Melbourne Cup winner Shocking ended his career on a high with victory in the Australian Cup, from Linton and Playing God, while 2012 saw Manighar nab Southern Speed on the line with Americain third.
The Australian Cup is now the third leg of a new middle distance series, featuring the Group 1 C.F. Orr Stakes (1400m) and the Group 2 Peter Young Stakes (1800m).These two races are the primary lead up races to the Australian Cup. The Group 1 Futurity Stakes (1400m) and the Group 2 Sunline Stakes (1600m) are other potential lead up races.
Logical targets after the Australian Cup are the Group 1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) and the Group 1 The BMW (2400m) at Rosehill. Incredibly, Manighar became the first horse to win all three races in 2012. The Group 1 Doncaster Mile (1600m) is another potential target.