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Melbourne Cup: the history of the prize money

The Melbourne Cup, also known as “the race that stops a nation”, was first run in 1861. The Melbourne Cup is the most famous race in Australia. Traditionally, the race takes place at 3 pm local time on the first Tuesday in November. This high-stakes horse racing event takes place at Flemington Racecourse in Victoria. In keeping with the status of the race, the Melbourne Cup 2023 will offer an amazing prize fund and the notorious Melbourne Cup trophy.

The Early Days of the Melbourne Cup

When the Melbourne Cup was first run in 1861, it was one of the richest races in Australia. In fact, the race was a Cup race in name only because the winning owners did not receive a Cup. In the early years, the prizes included a gold watch and a share of a cash purse. The successful connections first received a cup in 1865. The trophy was given the title of the Flemington Hunt Club Cup.

The race has been incredibly important in Australia since its infancy, which was reflected in the prize fund and the fact that the race day was declared a public holiday in 1877. In 1975, the race date changed to the first Tuesday in November and this is still the case today. Historical records indicate that the first race in 1861 was worth £710 which was paid in the form of gold sovereigns. The prize also included a gold watch for the winning owner.

Melbourne Cup Prize Money
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Melbourne Cup Prize Money Growth

The Melbourne Cup is a handicap race run over two miles which has become an incredibly important contest both in Australia and around the world. The prizes for the first winner in 1861 made the race one of the richest in Australia. The prize fund has steadily grown over time and kept up with the other main races in Australia. However, other matters in history have previously affected the wealth of the race.

For example, the Melbourne Cup was run during World War II. However, the prizes for the race were reduced to such an extent that the winning owner received £200 in the form of war bonds.

There have been several significant milestones in the history of the Melbourne Cup and the financial rewards for winning the race. The 1985 Melbourne Cup was the first race in Australian racing history to offer 1 million Australian dollars in prize money. At the start of the current century, the total prize fund had increased to €4 million AUD. The Melbourne Cup trophy was changed from a 9-carat gold item to one with 18-carats. The race became the richest handicap in the world at the time.

Melbourne Cup 2021 Prize Money

The Melbourne Cup 2021 is the second richest race in Australia after The Everest. The prize fund has grown to over $8 million AUD alongside a trophy worth $150,000. The winning and placed horse now share in a prize fund that has doubled over the last 19 years. There has been a global increase in prize money for elite races and you can bet that this trend will continue as time goes on.

Everest is the richest turf race in the world and the prize fund in 2020 was 13 million AUD. The first million pounds Ebor was run at York in 2020 and it is the most valuable Flat handicap in Europe.

In addition to the prize money, the Melbourne Cup 2021 also offers trophies worth 250,000 AUD. The first 12 horses receive prize money and the winner’s connections are given a share of 4,400,000 AUD. The horse that finishes in 12th place earns 160,000 AUD for the connections.

The Melbourne Cup 2021 offers a 500,000 AUD for any horse that wins the race and the Irish St Leger in the previous September. The Melbourne Cup 2021 has maintained its prize money status for a handicap.

Melbourne Cup Prize Money Breakdown

Below you’ll find the prize money awarded to the winning horse and runners up of the Melbourne Cup.

Melbourne Cup Finishing PositionAmount Won

How is the prize money distributed?

The Melbourne Cup prize distribution is 85% to the owner, 10% to the trainer and 5% to the jockey. This means that, for the racing event’s winning horse, the owner receives $3,740,000, the trainer receives $440,000 and the jockey receives $220,000.

Who has been the winner of the Melbourne Cup in recent years?

Here is the list of the Melbourne Cup winning horses, trainers and jockeys of each race over the last 10 years.

Melbourne Cup YearWinning HorseWinning TrainerWinning Jockey
2020Twilight PaymentJoseph O’BrienJye McNeil
2019Vow And DeclareDanny O’BrienCraig Williams
2018Cross CounterCharlie ApplebyKerrin McEvoy
2017RekindlingJoseph O’BrienMichelle Payne
2016AlmandinRob HickmottRyan Moore
2015Prince of PenzanceDarren WeirDamien Oliver
2014ProtectionistAndreas WohlerBrett Prebble
2013FiorenteGai WaterhouseChristophe Lemaire
2012Green MoonRob HickmottGérald Mossé
2011AmericainMikel DelzanglesCorey Brown

Melbourne Cup Prize Money FAQ

Which barrier is most likely to lead to a trophy?

There is no golden barrier to guarantee a win, however here are Melbourne Cup winning barriers of each race over the last 10 years:

Melbourne Cup YearMelbourne Cup Barrier
2020Barrier 12 
2019Barrier 21
2018Barrier 19
2017Barrier 4 
2016Barrier 17
2015Barrier 1
2014Barrier 11
2013Barrier 5 
2012Barrier 5
2011Barrier 13

Other than the Melbourne Cup, what other rich horse races are there?

While the Melbourne Cup is one of the most well-known horse racing events, there are other high-stakes races you might want to check out.

The Saudi Cup, which was run for the first time in 2020, is the richest horse race in the world and in horse racing history. It offers a total prize fund of $20 million, half of which goes to the winner.

The Dubai World Cup was pushed into second place by the Saudi Cup, offering $12 million in prize money.

Despite being the richest turf race in the world, The Everest ranks third in this list.

What has the Melbourne Cup prize money been in recent years?

The amount of money awarded to the winners of the Melbourne Cup in recent years is as follows:

Melbourne Cup YearAmount of Money Awarded (AUD)

Read the latest news about the Melbourne Cup.

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William HARRIS
20 articles
William is a racing writer with a growing portfolio of work on Australia and England horse racing. His passionate and his goal is to work as a journalist in the horse racing industry, and in the future to become a racing commentator.
18+ | Please play responsibly | Think. Is this a bet you really want to place? | Terms and Conditions apply | Commercial content