Type of horse needed to win a Melbourne Cup

| May 7, 2019

The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s most famous horse race. Its fame resonates throughout the world, perhaps only matched in terms of global audience by the Epsom Derby and Kentucky Derby. The magnitude of the Melbourne Cup cannot be underestimated and the fame and fortune afforded the winner is unparalleled in world sport.

Little wonder that many owners and trainers around the world, dream of having a horse capable of winning the Melbourne Cup. It’s far from easy. Regardless of your means, it’s almost an impossible task to win the Melbourne Cup. Even the Sheiks, with unlimited reserves of money, had not until last year won Australian racing’s grandest prize.

Ever since Irish gelding Vintage Crop won the Cup in 1993, trainers in the Northern Hemisphere and Japan have contemplated the type of horse needed to win a Melbourne Cup.

Unique aspects of the Melbourne Cup

In order to define the type of horse needed to win the Cup, first let’s talk about the race itself.

The Cup is run over a testing two-mile course. This in itself challenges the stamina of the most courageous horses.

The tempo of the race is quite variable. Fast early, slow in the middle stages, the momentum slowly builds, ultimately leading to the long, seemingly endless drive to the finish.

Horses scamper quickly down the straight for the first time, to obtain a good running position before the first turn. The turn is a veritable graveyard for the unfortunate jockey who finds himself out wide.

Down the backstretch, the race slows up. Runners conserve energy for the final onslaught. A searching turn, where running position is vital, precedes the final straight. Horses camp out the back to save energy whereas others forge forward, hoping to sit on the leaders before unleashing a final run.

The straight is like no other, except perhaps Longchamps where the length of the straight is underestimated by plenty of Arc contenders. The long 450m straight has caught many visiting jockeys unaware. The famous clocktower is the landmark for local hoops. With a furlong to go, it is important to wait for the clocktower before making a final surge to the post.

The last 100 metres, where whips are cracking and sinews straining. That final dive, where the head reaches for ultimate glory. It’s a race of many stages yet inches can determine a famous victory. 

What qualities are required to win the Melbourne Cup.

The qualities needed in a horse to win the Melbourne Cup are fairly clear. The difficult task is finding them all together in the one horse. Such a horse will surely be sought after with a good chance of obtaining the elusive first prize. Those qualities include the following;


First, the horse needs ultimate stamina. That undefined quality that allows the horse to draw in huge amounts of oxygen. A mammoth heart that is able to distribute, quickly and efficiently, oxygen-laden blood to the starving muscles. 

Phar Lap was the quintessential stayer, with a heart twice the average size for thoroughbreds. His ability to race at full speed at the end of two miles was the result of his freakish reserves of stamina. His long, raking stride, estimated to be around 25 feet (7.6 metres) allowing him to cover ground effortlessly.


The horse needs a relaxed and calm temperament, particularly in the mounting yard where adoring crowds are waiting, snapping pictures and cheering loudly with their unique horse racing vernacular. Many Cup horses, particularly those from our kiwi neighbours are noted for looking half asleep as they saunter around the mounting yard. One in particular comes to mind, the bonny mare Leilani, who finished runnerup in the 1974 Cup to Think Big. Her head almost touching the ground as she ambled around the yard.

Turn of foot, the ability to quicken in an instant

This much sought after “turn of foot” is the final inestimable quality the horse will need to deliver the Cup for its owners. Previous Cup winners clearly possessed the necessary turn of foot, an explosive burst that puts opposition to the sword.

Protectionist in 2014 unleashed his burst not once but twice in the straight, first at the 350m mark and again, even more devastatingly, at the 100m, destroying his opponents. Rekindling at the 200m in 2017, Green Moon at the 250m in 2012, Americain at the 250m in 2010, each fine examples of where the ability to quicken in the final stretch, despite being flat to the boards, was critical to their wins.

Without an ability to quicken, the horses are left to grind out the race. Like kingjohnnie where random chance decides the winner.

A youthful talent with progressive form

A young and talented horse showing progression in form is the latest prototype of horse to win a Melbourne Cup.

Rekindling was a 4YO and just hitting his peak in Europe. He put in a strong finishing effort in the G2 Curragh Cup before two good efforts in the St Legers of Ireland and England. He subsequently won the Melbourne Cup at only his 10 start. Cross Counter was the same. A record breaking effort in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood and a second in the Great Voltigeur at York.

A progressive and talented horse, as yet somewhat unproven, can escape the handicapper with a weight of less than 52kg. Those punters undertaking sportsbetting are well aware of the horses getting into the race with a light weight.

The Melbourne Cup winner in a nutshell

A horse possessing the unique qualities to win a Melbourne Cup will have a relaxed temperament, an elite turn of foot, and a stout pedigree with unlimited reserves of stamina. It will be young and progressive and with ability that is not fully exposed at public race meetings.

Australian owners scan the globe to seek such animals, often being most active at horse sales in Europe and the UK. Japanese trainers develop home-bred horses with these qualities in mind.

All with a dream of winning the Melbourne Cup.

Category: Racing

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