The Geelong Cup leads to Melbourne Cup

23 October 2023 Written by Joe McGrath

The Geelong Cup has always been held in high esteem and has long been hailed as a predictor of Lexus Melbourne Cup winners, such as Media Puzzle, Americain and Dunaden. Last year’s Geelong Cup winner, Emissary, was a sensational second behind winner, Gold Trip.

Maybe it’s the timing (mid to late October), maybe it’s the big, open track, maybe it’s because the race is 13 days out from the Lexus Melbourne Cup itself. Reality is, the Geelong Cup has always proved to be a strong indicator leading into the Lexus Melbourne Cup at Flemington, and a target for many racing stables across the globe. Its importance predates its popular referencing to international raiders, but more on that later.

But why and how has the Geelong Cup gained such attention? According to former Geelong Racing Club Chief Executive Daniel Salter the Geelong Cup has always been a must-attend event for those in the region. “Geelong Cup Day is one of the highlights on the Geelong social events calendar each year,” Salter stated. “Run on a public holiday (in Geelong) as part of the Spring Racing Carnival, the event brings together the local community for a great day of racing and entertainment.

Americain, ridden by Gerald Mosse wins the 2010 Geelong Cup. (Nicole Garmston/News Limited)

“It is a must-attend event and provides a great lift to the local economy, with hospitality and retail enjoying one of the busiest times of the year.

“There is always a great buzz around the city at Cup time.”

But the race itself has a long history. According to Robert Windmill’s history of horse racing in the region titled Geelong Racing, it was decided the Geelong Cup would be first conducted in early 1872. This makes it only eleven years younger than the Melbourne Cup. As documented in Windmill’s book, it was recommended the Geelong Cup replace the 150 sovereign Criterion Handicap at Geelong, as it was more or less deemed that three-mile races had gone out of fashion, except in cases where a very high stakes was on offer.

Media Puzzle ridden by Damien Oliver wins the Geelong Cup, 2002. (News Limited)

Highlighting the importance of the new race, the prizemoney was set at 250 sovereigns which exceeded the prizemoney of the first Caulfield Cup in 1879 by 50 sovereigns. A new race was born and has predominantly been run over 2400 metres since, but there have been variances from two miles (1872 to 1885) through to one mile (1914). It is currently run under open handicap conditions and at Group 3 level.

In determining the importance of the Geelong Cup to the Spring Racing Carnival, it should be kept in mind that Geelong was always a renowned centre for talented thoroughbreds. According to Dr Andrew Lemon’s History of Australian Thoroughbred Racing, the district of Geelong provided many of the Port Phillip district’s greatest racehorses, largely in the ownership of the Austin family. Horses of the calibre of Banker (1863 Melbourne Cup), Barwon (1862 Victoria Derby; 1863 Australian Cup), Petrel, Bunyip and Bessy Bedlam can all be traced to the Austin family. They were founding fathers, so to speak, for racing not only in Geelong but across the Port Phillip area.

On A Jeune ridden by Kerrin McEvoy wins the Geelong Cup, 2005. (Collen Petch / News Limited)

Significantly, the Geelong Cup has always attracted the best Australian trainers who have aimed to have the Geelong Cup trophy sitting on their mantelpiece. Gai Waterhouse, David Hayes, Peter Moody, Mike Moroney, Danny O’Brien ... they have all targeted and won the race in recent times on the way through to Flemington.

Over the past twenty years, the race has gained an international flavour, opening up to international trainers who have become more familiar with the race. Legendary Irish trainer Dermot Weld was the first to place his name on the trophy back in 2002 with Media Puzzle (USA). A horse that ultimately thrived on his arrival from Ireland, Media Puzzle would play a star role when winning the 2002 Melbourne Cup for Damien Oliver, writing a dramatic chapter in the history of the two-mile handicap at Flemington following the death of Damien’s brother Jason, only days before. So amazing a story, they made a film out of it, Simon Wincer’s The Cup.

Bauer (IRE) would secure the race in 2008 for Italian legend Luca Cumani, prior to running the narrowest of seconds to the Bart Cummings-trained Viewed in the Melbourne Cup soon after. Two years later, Alain de Royer-Dupré would bring the much-travelled stayer Americain (USA) to Geelong in the hope he would kick through to Flemington for the Melbourne Cup. Of course, history records Americain as the 150th winner of the Melbourne Cup, providing de Royer-Dupré with a signature win as well as for star French jockey Gérald Mossé.

Twelve months later it was almost a case of déjà vu when Mikel Delzangles, another Frenchman, secured the Geelong Cup with Dunaden (FR) prior to winning the Melbourne Cup. Delzangles, who was assistant trainer to de Royer-Dupré for ten years, openly admitted copying the plan that his former boss had executed a year earlier.

Winning formula

The Geelong Cup always had a strong link to the Melbourne Cup, and aside from Media Puzzle (2002), Americain (2010) and Dunaden (2011), the direct links to the Melbourne Cup go back to its inception. Here is a summary of horses to win the Geelong Cup and be placed in the Melbourne Cup:

1883 Guadarz 3rd (1882)
1889 Malua 1st (1884)
1970 Vansittart 2nd (1970)
1984 Chagemar 2nd (1984)
1985 Koiro Corrie May 2nd (1985)
1990 Mr Brooker 3rd (1990)
2002 Media Puzzle 1st (2002)
2003 Zazzman 3rd (2004)
2005 On A Jeune 2nd (2005)
2008 Bauer 2nd (2008)
2010 Americain 1st (2010)
2011 Dunaden 1st (2011)
Special mentions:    
1980 Summer Fleur Mother of Empire Rose (1988)
2001 Karasi 4th (2001): Winner of Nakayama Grand Jump (2005, 2006 & 2007)