5 Legendary Horses Who Have Prevailed in the Melbourne Cup

Melbourne Cup

The world’s finest stayers descend upon Flemington Racecourse each year to battle for supremacy in the Melbourne Cup. Here are five of the best. (Photo credit: Flemington Racecourse).

The world’s finest stayers descend upon Flemington Racecourse each year to battle for supremacy in the Melbourne Cup. It is the most prestigious race in Australia and it always attracts a phenomenal field, so securing victory is a tremendous achievement.

Many legendary horses have prevailed since the race began in 1861, but these five elite superstars stand out as the greatest champions the Melbourne Cup has seen:


Archer secured a six-length victory over Victorian champion Mormon in the inaugural Melbourne Cup back in 1861. The bookies made him a huge underdog after arriving from Sydney via steamboat to contest the race, but he made a mockery of that status by blitzing the field. His owner was awarded 710 gold sovereigns and a hand-beaten gold watch after Archer prevailed in the winner-takes-all race. The following day, he ran in the 2-mile Melbourne Town Plate and picked up another emphatic victory. Archer returned the following year and defeated a field of 20 runners by eight lengths, a record that has never been beaten. He would probably have won again in 1863, but trainer Etienne de Mestre’s telegraphed acceptance form arrived late due to a Victorian public holiday, and he was controversially barred from competing. Archer is one of just five multiple Melbourne Cup winners in history, and he was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Phar Lap

Phar Lap was so good that a criminal gang backing his rivals tried to assassinate him. The legendary Harry Telford-trained gelding four races in seven days at the Melbourne Spring Carnival in 1930, causing gangster to shoot him from a motorcar. Phar Lap went into hiding in Geelong, and only came out an hour before the Melbourne Cup that year. He went off as the lowest odds favourite in Melbourne Cup history – a record that stands to this day – and totally justified that tag by winning the race comfortably. He carried a huge 63kg load that day, but his rivals still could not get anywhere close to him. Phar Lap’s winning streak reached 14 by the time he was finally beaten, and he then died aged five in mysterious circumstances on a visit to California, further heightening the mystery surrounding him. You can check here for the latest Melbourne Cup odds, and you are unlikely to ever see a lower price than the $1.73 (8/11) available on Phar Lap in 1930.

Think Big

Think Big saved his best performances for the Melbourne Cup, much to the delight of the punters that backed him. He picked up just one win in eight starts during his two-year-old season, and little was expected of him. He finished third to Igloo in the 1974 Brisbane Cup, but he was simply making up the numbers at the Melbourne Cup that year. All eyes were on stablemate Leilani, the Caulfield Cup winner who was tipped to destroy all of her rivals. She led towards the end of the race, but Think Big lived up to his name by running her down in the last 50m to clinch an unlikely victory. Think Big struggled to recapture that form, and he finished second to last in the 1975 MacKinnon Stakes, a key lead up to the Melbourne Cup. That saw him go off as a 33/1 outsider when bidding to defend his crown, but at his favourite course and distance he managed to record a second straight Melbourne Cup win under jockey Harry White. Trainer Bart Cummings secured a record 12 Melbourne Cup winners, but a Think Big double was possibly the unlikeliest result of his illustrious career.

Kingston Rule

Kingston Rule is famous for winning the Melbourne Cup in a record time of 3:16:3 back in 1990. He joined Cummings’ stable the previous year and displayed underwhelming form. Jim Cassidy and Michael Clarke were reluctant to commit to riding him at the Melbourne Cup, so young Sydney jockey Darren Beardman was handed the ride in the lead up Hotham Handicap, where he finished second. He looked in terrific shape when he arrived at Flemington, so the bookies installed him as the 7/1 joint favourite. He settled along the rail and then took the lead with a furlong to go. The Phantom challenged, but Kingston Rule was far too good and he won the race with ease. Kingston Rule entered stud the following year and sired 91 winners.

Makybe Diva

Makybe Diva holds the record for winning the Melbourne Cup three times between 2003 and 2005. No other horse ever secured more than two victories in the famous race, and she is widely regarded as one of the greatest stayers the world has ever seen. She went off as the $8 second favourite in 2003 and came from the back of the field to pick up a one-and-a-half length victory. Makybe Diva followed up with another victory in treacherous conditions the following year, and she was the heavily backed favourite when bidding for a hat-trick in 2005, despite many pundits insisting she was over the hill. Makybe Diva made them eat their words by surging to a third victory, and she was retired immediately after the race. She also won the Cox Plate and she was named Australian Racehorse of the Year in 2004 and 2005. When she retired she was the highest stakes-earner in Australian horse racing history.


NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll

No. Horse Points
1 Flightline 351
2 Life Is Good 306
3 Olympiad 292
4 Jackie's Warrior 282
5 Clairiere 142
5 Country Grammer 142
7 Epicenter 121
8 Regal Glory 89
9 Nest 87
10 Hot Rod Charlie 48
As of August 1, 2022

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