Friday, October 30, 2009

Weather and the Melbourne Cup

An iconic moment in Australian sporting history - Phar Lap wins the 1930 Melbourne Cup. Judging by the dress of the crowd and their shadows, the weather was fine and cool during race time that day.
Image - Wikipedia Commons
(Click to enlarge)

Rain is a surprisingly frequent visitor to Melbourne on Cup Day, with about one in three race-days affected by rain of some sort.

However rain during the race itself is far less frequent – in fact only about once in every nine years. But there were only two occasions since the Cups beginning in 1861 where the race was actually postponed because of rain and these were the years 1870 and 1916, when the track was so waterlogged that it was deemed unsafe to ride.

Some of the wetter years are described here from contemporary newspaper articles:

1870 - Melbourne Cup is postponed one week due to rain
Eventually won by Nimblefoot

1892 – “The Cup was run in pouring rain”
Won by Glenloth

1899 – “The Melbourne Cup was run in a heavy shower, and the course at the time was fetlock-deep in water and slush”.
Won by Merriwee

1912 – “Wintry Day at Flemington – Rain Mars Attendance”
Won by Piastre

1913 – “A Vast Attendance - Racing in the Rain”.
Won by Posinatus

1916 - Rain postpones the Cup by 5 days – “The track was of the consistency of porridge”.
Eventually won by Sasanof

1924 – “Rain adversely affected the meeting”
Won by Backwood

1934 – “Rain Mars Pleasure of 90,000 people”
Won by Peter Pan

1941 – “No Sectional Times in Cup” – Owing to rain, visibility was so poor when the Melbourne Cup was being run that sectional times could not be obtained.
Won by Skipton

1992 – Rain all through the race
Won by Subzero

A wonderful reminiscence that appeared in The Argus on Saturday 16th August 1939 was written by a lady (who called herself "La Femme") recalling her first visit to the Melbourne Cup as a young lady in 1892 – when it rained heavily throughout the day.

Women's Woe - When it Rains
My first Melbourne Cup was in 1892, and I shall never forget it. I was supposed to be much too young (17) to go to the races, but one of my aunts who had been going became ill, and rather than waste the ticket they let me go. I was very thrilled and excited. I wore a white muslin dress and a scarlet hat trimmed with velvet geraniums. I also had a scarlet sunshade (borrowed).

Getting to Kensington in good time, we got a seat on the grandstand without trouble. We had taken sandwiches and cake, but had to do without tea at lunch, as thermos flasks were unknown then.

We were no sooner seated than it started to rain - as it can in Melbourne. It poured. Everybody looked dejected and miserable, but the races went on just the same. The Cup was also run in pouring rain. Glenloth won - a rank outsider. I heard someone say it was a milkman's horse, and well it might have been, for milkmen's horses are used to being out in all weathers. |

On the platform while waiting for the train back to Melbourne two women came along somewhat "under the influence." One was dressed in a lace frock and what had been a tulle hat with red poppies on it, but the rain had ruined the tulle, which was hanging round her face, and on top of her golden hair was perched a large bunch of wet poppies.

The other was dressed in amber - coloured satin. Her hat must have been beautiful when she started out for the races, but now it was just a bedraggled lot of ostrich feathers. She had only one shoe on, the - other one must have got stuck in the mud, and she had not bothered to put it on again. When the train pulled into the station she took off the remaining shoe and threw it at the engine.

My white muslin dress was a sorry sight, too. To protect my nice hat from the rain I had opened the red sunshade, but the dye ran and made dreadful splashes all over my dress. The dye later proved to be indelible.

I don't think I have since seen so many dejected people coming from the races. We had a miserable trip home in the train. Uncle was so cross. He must have lost a lot of money. Thank goodness we don't often have Cup Days like that.


The highest temperature recorded on race-day in Melbourne was an amazingly hot 35.1C in 1901, but on the wet and wintry Cup day of 1913, the temperature was only able to reach 11C.

Horse Names

As well as weather affecting the race itself, several - but surprisingly few - winners have had weather related names, including the most famous of them all – Phar Lap - which is Thai for lightning.

The mighty Phar Lap - winner of the 1930 Melbourne Cup.
Phar Lap is Thai for lightning.
Image - Wikipedia Commons
(Click to enlarge)

Phar Lap won in 1930, and second place that year was Second Wind, another “weather” name. The 1930 Cup is the only one where horses with meteorological titles came first and second.

You can see a movie of this famous event here:

The 1992 Cup was the only race in which a horse with a “weather” name - Subzero - won whilst it was actually raining.

Only one horse with a "weather" name has won twice - Rain Lover in 1968 and 1969.

Melbourne Cup Winners with “weather” names

1925 Windbag

1930 Phar Lap

1945 Rainbird

1968 Rain Lover

1969 Rain Lover

1992 Subzero

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