10 Unexpected Winners of the Melbourne Cup

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The Melbourne Cup is one of the most prestigious, lucrative and fiercely contested races in the world. A star-studded field lines up at Flemington Racecourse each year to battle it out for glory, and a nation comes to a standstill to watch the drama unfold. Occasionally a red-hot favourite salutes, but the competitive nature of the race means that a number of roughies have also clinched unlikely victories over the years. These are some of the most unexpected winners of the Melbourne Cup:

Archer, 1861

Victorian champion Mormon was the overwhelming favourite to romp to victory in the inaugural Melbourne Cup. However, unfancied Sydney outsider Archer ended up leaving his rivals in the dust and he finished a full six lengths clear of Mormon. That saw him earn the princely sum of 710 gold sovereigns and a gold watch for his owners, the Roberts family. Archer returned the following year and demolished his rivals yet again. He probably would have made it a hat-trick in 1863, but a controversial bureaucratic mishap prevented him from racing.

The Pearl, 1871

The Pearl was the very first 100/1 shot to win the race that stops a nation. Owner and trainer poured most of his efforts into an in-form stablemate called Pyrrhus, and only put The Pearl into the race as an afterthought. However, the roughie managed to circumnavigate a pile-up in the middle of the race and he went on to win by two lengths.

Zulu, 1881

Zulu earned the unfortunate nickname “lame pony” in the build-up to the 1881 Melbourne Cup. He was a tiny horse compared to his rivals, and he pretty much sailed under the radar throughout the race. Then all hell broke loose. A dog ran onto the track, causing a collision that wiped out three horses and leaving one jockey with injuries that ultimately proved to be fatal. Yet Zulu was unperturbed. The 50/1 shot escaped the melee intact and tore down the home straight to clinch an unlikely triumph.

Glenloth, 1892

The crowd taunted Glenloth in merciless fashion after his trainer knotted his long tail to avoid it gathering dirt from the track at Flemington. However, the 50/1 underdog had the last laugh by galloping to a three-length victory. Owner James Urquhart was a milkman, and Glenloth’s victory completed an intriguing rags to riches tale.
Wotan, 1936

Wotan was the second roughie to defy odds of 100/1 to win the Melbourne Cup. The result was a shock for punters, as there was scarcely a penny for the New Zealand-bred four-year-old. He had flopped on his previous visit to Australia, and he was expected to simply make up the numbers. Yet Wotan displayed phenomenal stamina and courage throughout the race and seized victory with a terrific burst down the final six furlongs.

Old Rowley, 1940

Just four years later, Old Rowley became the third 100/1 winner of the Melbourne Cup. He was seen as a bang average horse with a bad gait, and the roughest of the pack in 1940. Old Rowley had won just four of 60 career starts, he did not have a victory under his belt in the previous two years, and even his trainer refused to bet on him. Yet the seven-year-old veteran remained in contention throughout, and then burst to the front of the field with a furlong remaining. A thrilling three-way battle with Maikai and Tidal Wave ensued, but Old Rowley held on to win by three-quarters of a length.

Rimfire, 1948

Fifteen-year-old jockey Ray Neville was the star of the show when he guided 80/1 shot Rimfire to victory in the 1948 Melbourne Cup. It was the day before his 16th birthday, and the apprentice had only ridden one winner prior to the race. Rimfire was described as so lame that his trainer despaired of even getting him to the post, but Neville delivered a faultless ride to secure the win. Rimfire went off at 66/1, but he ended up breaking the race record, which Wotan and Russia jointly held. Yet it was an exceptionally close call, and it required the first photo finish in Melbourne Cup history before Rimfire was awarded the win.

Hi Jinx, 1960

New Zealand-bred Hi Jinx was a serious outsider for the 100th Melbourne Cup after struggling in the Caulfield Cup a few weeks previously. She had an undistinguished record, and started the race as a 50/1 underdog, but she prevailed in a field of 32, which also featured the legendary Tulloch. In the end it boiled down to a tense fight between Hi Jinx, Howsie and Ilumquh, but Hi Jinx won by a neck to leave the crowd stunned.

Viewed, 2008

Legendary trainer Bart Cummings secured his 12th and final Melbourne Cup victory when Viewed made a mockery of 40/1 odds to salute in 2008. It was a full 50 years since the man with the magical twirling eyebrows had saddled his first Melbourne Cup victory, and he basked in the adulation of the Flemington crowd after Viewed’s victory. His preparation for the race was distinctly underwhelming. He was 10th in the Caulfield Cup a fortnight before the race and then last in the Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington a week prior to the Melbourne Cup, so it is easy to see why he was assigned such long odds. However, Viewed pulled clear of the pack and somehow managed to hold off the rampaging Bauer to earn the win.

Prince of Penzance, 2015

By 2015, it seemed that we would never see another 100/1 winner. It was 65 years since Old Rowley’s famous victory, and all the ensuing 100/1 roughies had duly crashed and burned. Yet Prince of Penzance became the fourth horse to defy those astronomical odds when he held off the late challenge of Max Dynamite. Rider Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, and she savaged her doubters in a famous post-race interview. “Get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world,” she said.
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