Here is a brief summary of  The Melbourne Cup for anyone overseas.

The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s major horse race – known as “The race that stops a nation”.  It is the richest and most prestigious “two-mile” handicap in the world.  The race was first held in 1861.  The total prize money for the 2010 race will be AUD$6 million, plus trophies valued at $125,000.

 The event is held at around 3 pm on the first Tuesday in November each year at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne and is one of the most popular spectator events in Australia, with sometimes more than 110,000 people attending the race. 

It is a gazetted Public Holiday in many places in Australia.  For those at work on the day, everyone will stop at 3 pm and huddle around a TV or radio to watch or listen to the race and barrack for their bets or sweep picks, then back to work again. Participating in a Melbourne Cup “sweep” is an Australian way of life becoming the focus of the day. ( “Sweep” – up to 24 people put in the required amount, usually $1 – $5. Then ‘your’ horse is selected by pulling a name out from the list of all horses in the race. There’s no betting skill involved. The prize money is given to whoever was lucky enough to draw out 1st, 2nd and 3rd place-getters and usually whoever drew the last horse will get their bet back for winning ‘the wooden spoon’. People often enter sweeps for their kids or partners and will buy a few entries.)

It was estimated that 80 percent of the adult Australian population place a bet on the race.  Australians bet about AUS $150 million on the Melbourne Cup in 2009.

‘Fashions on the Field’ is a major part of the day, with substantial prizes awarded for the best-dressed man and woman. Race day fashion can draw almost as much attention as the race itself.

Phar Lap, the most famous horse in the world of his day, won the 1930 Melbourne Cup. He won the Melbourne Cup as the shortest priced favourite in the history of the race at 11/8 odds on.

*I got help from Wikipedia with some of the facts and figures.