The Victoria Derby is one of the oldest and most prestigious races in Australia. Taking place on the Saturday prior to the Melbourne Cup, it has a long and storied history and is one of the most popular events of the spring, and this is all that you need to know about this great race.
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The very first edition of the Victoria Derby was held way back in 1855, making it one of the oldest horse races in Australia. That inaugural edition as well as the next two were won by fillies, while a little over a decade later Fireworks became the first horse to win the event in consecutive years courtesy of a date change which enabled him to compete twice as a three-year-old at the race. In the years to come, both of those things would prove to be particularly noteworthy, because no other horse since has ever managed the same double as Fireworks, while fillies have had an almost-100-year-long drought at the event, with Frances Tressady the last to win it back in 1923.
The Victoria Derby was held over 1.5 miles for more than 100 years, but when Australia changed to the metric system the race changed to 2,400 metres. This distance, however, meant that there was only a very short run to the first turn, and as a result it was altered in 1973 to the 2,500 metres that it remains at today.
As mentioned, the race is run over 2,500 metres and at set weight conditions, and is open to three-year-old horses only. This distance is a tough test for horses of this age, particularly early in the season, but as a result the race has seen numerous winners go on to have established careers and take out even bigger races, with numerous Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup winners having won the Victoria Derby as three-year-olds.
The Group 1 race boasts an enormous prize pool of $2 million, which makes it the richest Derby in the country alongside the Australian Derby. Indeed, it is also one of the richest Group 1 races in Victoria — the Melbourne Cup ($8 million) as well as the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate ($5 million each) all boast substantially bigger prize pools, but the Victoria Derby sits alongside the Caulfield Guineas, Mackinnon Stakes and Kennedy Cantala Stakes as the races with the equal-fourth highest prize pool in Victorian Group 1 racing.
The notable winners
There is no shortage of notable winners of the Victoria Derby, with many of them going on to compete in and win some of the biggest races in Australia. Poseidon was one of the first examples — in 1906 he took out the Victoria Derby in the same year as he won the Caulfield Cup and the Melbourne Cup. More recently, Red Anchor won it in 1984 in a season which also saw him win the Caulfield Guineas and the Cox Plate, while 2007 Melbourne Cup winner Efficient took out this event the year prior.
Last year, the Victoria Derby proved to be one of the most memorable races of the entire Spring Racing Carnival. It was won by Johnny Get Angry, a horse who jumped at odds of $21 and was trained by former AFL coach Denis Pagan, and the sight of the shocked face of the famous football figure in the stands when his horse crossed the line was one of the enduring images of the spring.
One of the country’s most esteemed races
The Victoria Derby has long held an esteemed status as one of the biggest races in Australia, and a quick look at the past winners reveals why. As one of the toughest tests for young stayers in the country, horses who are able to perform at a high level here regularly go on to have elite careers, and as a result pundits always take a keen interest in the race. This year, it will be run on the 30th of October, and as it always does, will no doubt see a quality field jump from Flemington’s 2,500-metre mark.