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Tuesday 20th July 2021
The Legend of Archer - The First Winner of the Melbourne Cup

Since it was first run, back in 1861, The Melbourne Cup has had a long list of Melbourne Cup horses that have galloped their way to glory and honour. However, none is more interesting than the very first winner of the race, Archer, who despite having a strange run and a tongue lolling out, made history by being the first and most well-known of all race winners.

A Long Limbed Thoroughbred

Archer was a horse that some may describe as long-limbed and others may describe as lanky. His run was recognisable from a long distance as he strode with an unusual gait - and more often than not, he reached his highest speeds with his tongue lolling ungainly out from his mouth.

However, that’s not to say that he wasn’t impressive in his own right. This thoroughbred stood at 16.3 hands high and travelled all the way from New South Wales to enter - and win - the very first edition of the Melbourne Cup.

The journey was not an easy one. He travelled south from Port Melbourne to Sydney via steamboat with just two stable companions by his side. When reaching his destination, he then took part in the first Melbourne Cup on Thursday 7th November, with a crowd of 4,000 people in attendance. Only 17 runners from the 5t that were due to participate made it to the start line. Among those was Mormon, the favourite to take the title.

A Dramatic Race

No Melbourne Cup is without a certain amount of drama, and the same was true of the very first race. The first hiccup was a false start - and when it did eventually get going, the grass was so long, 90cm high in some places, that the pace was rather slow. Despite this, there was a serious fall that caused the injury of three runners. Still, the race went on.

Archeer did well enough to avoid this carnage and by the time he reached the top of the straight, he was three lengths clear of the rest of the field. This lead continued to grow, and when he crossed the finish line he was a full six lengths clear of race favourite, Mormon.

Although he managed an impressive victory, it took him 3 minutes and 52 seconds to complete the course  - which is still recorded as the slowest winning time ever. However, this did not detract from the New South Wales horse’s victory and it was the beginning of a historic rivalry interstate rivalry that has lasted many years. Hee also received a hand-beaten gold watch and 710 gold sovereigns as a prize.

Two in a Row

This isn’t, however, where his story ends. It was one year later that Archer returned to his place of victory to race for a second time. This time it was held in front of 7,000 horse racing fans - and this time it was Archer who started as the favourite to win in a field of 20.

Although Archer had a disadvantage, carrying 64.5kg, he made history again by winning the race for the second time. Again, he was racing the previous year’s favourite, Mormon, but this time he beat him by eight lengths instead of six. This saw him take his place in the history books no just for being the first to win the Melbourne Cup, but the first to win it twice in a row.

In 1866, the Sydney Sporting Life wrote that ‘Archer possessed a splendid constitution’ with a fine temper - an honest and true runner. To this day, he is only one of three horses in the history of the race to win carrying a weight of over 60kg. In a long list of successful horses, Archer has certainly earned his place in legend.

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