Bringing a legacy to life at Flemington

18 May 2024 Written by Celia Purdey

The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) unveiled a new set of Honour Boards in The Committee Room foyer, a collaborative project dedicated to honouring every Melbourne Cup winner since 1861.

Not only preserving history but also celebrating the essence of excellence embodied by the Melbourne Cup, it’s a tribute to the past, a celebration of the present, and an inspiration for the future.

The new Honour Boards are more than just displays; they’re storytellers.

With the simple scan of a QR code, viewers are transported into the narratives of the horses, jockeys, and trainers behind each victory. From moments of triumph to tales of resilience, each champion’s journey comes to life.

The Melbourne Cup holds a profound significance, standing as a constant amidst tumultuous times like the World Wars and the Great Depression. From legendary horses like Archer and Phar Lap to iconic trainers like Etienne de Mestre and Bart Cummings, the race’s history is steeped in remarkable tales.

Who would’ve thought that an 11-year-old would ride the Cup winner in 1876? Stableboy jockey Peter Bowden, who rode under the name Peter St Albans, became the youngest-ever Cup winner at just 11 years old. Peter rode the runner-up in the following year’s Cup and again in 1880.

In the 1897 Melbourne Cup, full brothers Gaulus and The Grafter fought out the finish, running the quinella by a mere half head. While Gaulus was the victor that time, The Grafter went on to win the Cup the following year.

Then there’s the story of 15-year-old Ray Neville, who clinched victory in 1948 at only his ninth race ride.

Or the legendary Bart Cummings, who began his Cup legacy by strapping Comic Court for his father in 1950, before going on to train an astounding 12 winners himself between 1965 and 2008.

Rain Lover made history in 1969 as the first horse in over a century to win back-to-back Cups.

And in 1973, 41-year-old jockey Frank Reys, the first Indigenous Australian to win the Cup, overcame injury battles to achieve victory. After the race, he was unashamedly emotional, delivering a long, heartfelt speech. ‘I kept picking myself up off the ground and hoping I would win a Melbourne Cup,’ he said. ‘It’s something that every Australian jockey dreams about.’

In 1993, Vintage Crop shattered expectations by becoming the first Northern Hemisphere-trained winner, marking an all-Irish triumph with Dermot Weld and Michael Kinane.

And of course, no one can forget Makybe Diva’s unprecedented back-to-back victories that cement her as a legendary figure in Cup folklore.

In addition to celebrating the equine heroes, the boards pay homage to the visionary leaders who have shaped the VRC’s history. From James Blackwood, the first Chairman, to Neil Wilson today, the project acknowledges the contributions of administrators who’ve made their mark on Flemington Racecourse and the VRC.

It was Robert Cooper Bagot, a civil engineer and surveyor who arrived in Melbourne during the gold rush era, and who served as the Victoria Racing Club’s inaugural Secretary from 1864 until his passing, who laid the groundwork for the fame of Flemington, the Melbourne Cup’s prestige and the VRC through meticulous improvements to facilities and racecourse management. Despite his limited interest in the sport itself, his dedication earned him the moniker ‘the Indefatigable’, and his contributions were commemorated with the introduction of the Bagot Handicap and his induction into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Following Bagot was Henry Byron Moore, an English-born surveyor and entrepreneur, who made significant contributions as Secretary of the Victoria Racing Club for an incredible 44 years. Byron Moore proved an outstanding racing administrator and publicist, intent on enhancing Flemington as a magnificent national attraction with featured gardens, grounds and facilities. He was a skilled horticulturalist. During his long tenure the VRC built six major grandstands and introduced many innovations. Byron Moore was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2010.

As we reflect on these tributes, we’re reminded of the enduring connection between past and present. The Honour Boards serve as a living legacy of the Melbourne Cup’s and the VRC’s rich history, and they will continue to evolve, embracing the stories of future champions and contributors.

Explore the stories, written by VRC historian Dr Andrew Lemon and Keeper of the Cup, Joe McGrath, of Melbourne Cup-winning horses, jockeys, and trainers, as well as key administrators in the VRC's history.