The Hotham Handicap is a Group 3 stayer’s race of 2500 metres that is run at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne in late October or possibly early November and is overseen by the Victoria Racing Club.
The running conditions are quality handicap and the racers must be aged three years or older that are not maidens.
Hotham Handicap Race Details
Race Distance: 2500m
Prize Money: $300,000
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When Is The Hotham Handicap: 2/11/24
What Time Is The Hotham Handicap: TBA
Where Is The Hotham Handicap: Flemington Racecourse
How To Live Stream The Hotham Handicap
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More Details About The Hotham Handicap
The race jumps three days ahead of the Melbourne Cup at the Saturday meeting that is the first day of Melbourne’s big spring carnival. It is run alongside the premier Group 1 races the Victoria Derby, the Coolmore Stud Stakes and the Empire Rose Stakes.
A key feature of the race is that any winner that is also nominated for the Melbourne Cup gains a ballot exemption to run in the race that stops a nation.
Prizemoney for the race is $300,000, as of 2022.
The winner of the race in 2021, Great House, won $180,000 for beating eight other gallopers for trainer Chris Waller, but then ran 13th in the Melbourne Cup, losing to another Chris Waller horse, Verry Elleegant.
History of the Hotham Handicap
In a country where staying races seem to get shorter and less frequent all the time, the Hotham Handicap would probably be overlooked were it not for the free pass to the Melbourne Cup.
When the race first jumped in 1869, horses were expected to work. There was none of this fortnight minimum between jumps that seems to be the dominant practice.
Racing 2500 metres on the Saturday and then going 3200 on the Tuesday is a big ask, though, regardless of the era.
Somewhat surprisingly, several modern horses have won the Hotham, and then won the Melbourne Cup on short rest.
Those were Shocking (2009) and Brew (2000).
In earlier times, the double was completed by Think Big (1974), Baystone (1958), Foxzami (1949), Sirius (1944), Dark Felt (1943), White Nose (1931), King Ingoda (1922) and Nimblefoot (1870).
This record rather throws water on our avowal that horses from the earlier eras were not as coddled as are their modern day counterparts.
The operative query in this instance would be why no horse between Nimblefoot in 1870 and King Ingoda in 1922 was able to fill the double, a period of over 50 years.
This Thoroughbred racing, it can be unpredictable, no?
We might expect to find winners of the Hotham Handicap that won the Melbourne Cup in other years, so we will be alert to that when possible.
As of 2022, the race is known as the Lexus Hotham Stakes, while the officially registered name is the Hotham Handicap. It is quite common to encounter the race as simply the Lexus Stakes.
Other names formerly associated with the race are The Dalgety, the Crown Quality, Ten News Stakes, Lean Cuisine Quality (no horses were harmed in the making of frozen entrees), the Saab Quality (prime oxymoron if ever there was one) and Lexus Stakes.
In the years prior to metrication, the trip for the race was 1 -1/2 miles. When it switched to the metric system in 1972, 100 metres were added to make it a 2500-metre race that has remained so since.
The race grade supplies some interest.
It was a Principal race from inception through 1978. The introduction of the Group classification system in 1979 found the race graded as Group 3 for 1979 and 1980.
It was promoted to Group 2 in 1981 through 2003, after which it was demoted back to Group 3.
As for the running history of the race, a history that covers over 150 years, only Dark Felt (1942 and 1943) and Chagemar (1983 and 1984) have won the race on more than one occasion.
There have been two races that resulted in dead heats.
The first was in 1927 involving Eridanus and Bicolor.
The second dead heat was an historical moment that is seldom encountered.
It was a three-way dead heat between Fighting Force, Ark Royal and Pandie Sun in 1956.
Venue for the Hotham Handicap
The race has always been held at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne.
Two World Wars did not prevent the race and it has never been abandoned for any reason or shifted to another course for any reason.
Flemington is often referred to as “Headquarters” because it is the leading course in Victoria. Some would say leading course in Australia, but Randwick fans might voice objections to that nomenclature.
Flemington has been holding races since 1840, although it is hard to argue that the early racing along the flats of the Maribyrnong River in any way represents racing at Flemington now.
The big event at Flemington is, of course, the Melbourne Cup.
Flemington hosts another 12 Group 1, 9 Group 2 and 14 Group 3 races, which are fewer than some of the other metro tracks, Randwick in particular.
Flemington is a pear-shaped oval that provides for many interesting racing scenarios.
For a 2500-metre race such as the Hotham Handicap, the horses go one entire circuit, starting near the middle of the home straight, running through the tight turn on the west side of the track, down the riverside straight, around the double sweeping turn, and then finishing in front of the stands at the end of the home straight.
Racing History of the Hotham Handicap
With a rich history in terms of longevity, the winners of the Hotham Handicap represent a diverse group. For decades, international gallopers chasing the Melbourne Cup prize have used the race as a way to get into the Cup, even if backing on three days of rest sounds like an impossible ask.
We will begin with the recent winners, as records of the last decade of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st century will supply a depth of history that is not possible for the earlier years of the race.
A couple of exceptions are that we often mention the first winner of a race, because doing something for the first time makes it historical.
The first winner of the race in 1869 was Aurora.
We did not find an Aurora from the correct time for an 1869 winner. There was one in Great Britain that would have had to be 12 years old in 1869. While we can stretch our imaginations to think of a 12-year-old still competing in the late 1800s, our imaginations snapped right back when we learned that the Aurora in question died in 1861. There were quite a few by that name, all mares, but only two Aussie horses from 1877 and 1991. Checking for Brit and New Zealand horses did not supply anything from around the right time.
Since we are at the origin of the Hotham Handicap, we will look at the notable that won the race in 1870, Nimblefoot.
Nimblefoot was a gelding that was the first to win the Hotham and follow up with a win in the 1870 Melbourne Cup. He also won the Australian Cup in 1871. He won 16 other races and placed in 19 from 58 jumps. His owner dreamt that his horse won the Cup four months prior to the race, but the owner, Walter Craig, died three months before Nimblefoot won the big race. Nimbelfoot’s rider, John Day, was a colourful personality in his own right, having spent some time as a speed walker in competition and in the theatre.
Good horses have won the Hotham Handicap in recent years.
Ashrun, the winner from 2020, used the ballot exemption to the Melbourne Cup to finish 10th. He has not raced since that 2020 Melbourne Cup and we suspect he is done.
Downdraft from 2019 fared more poorly, running 22nd in the Melbourne Cup and has not raced since.
The winner in 2018, Prince Of Arran was an international gelding that is probably retired and deservedly so, since he won over $3.6 million from 48 jumps for 6 wins and 18 placings. Sent to Australia to chase the Melbourne Cup, he ran third to Yucatan and Brimham Rocks in the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes before winning the Hotham for Brimham Rocks. His attempt in the 2018 Melbourne Cup resulted in third place.
Prince Of Arran came back the following year and ran the Melbourne Cup to come within a head of the winner, Vow And Declare, after winning the Group 3 Geelong Cup. He tried again in 2020 after running fourth in the Caulfield Cup and produced another Melbourne Cup third to Twilight Payment and Tiger Moth.
We are rewinding to 2009, the year Shocking won the Hotham Handicap and the Melbourne Cup.
He was declared the Australian Champion Stayer for 2009/2010 with additional wins in the Makybe Diva Stakes in 2010 and the Australian Cup in 2011.
As a sire, Shocking can claim I’m Thunderstruck from 2017 that won the Toorak Handicap. He made a huge haul when he won the Golden Eagle at Rosehill in 2021.
Maybe Better was the notable that won the Hotham Handicap in 2006.
It was his last win and his next race, the Melbourne Cup, found him in third place behind Delta Blues and Pop Rock.
Another of the small, select group to win the Hotham followed by the Melbourne Cup was Brew from 2000.
Brew tried the Hotham in 1999, where he finished fifth. He then changed trainers and ran 10th in the 1999 Melbourne Cup. The Hotham was a Group 2 race when he won in 2000 before winning the Melbourne Cup by a comfortable two lengths.
Brew tried five more races after winning the 2000 Melbourne Cup, but did not place in any of those races.
The most recent galloper to win the Hotham twice was Chagemar from 1883 and 1984. Other wins by Chagemar were the Geelong Cup and the Tattersall’s Cup.
The next notable Hotham Handicap winner was 1974’s Think Big.
Think Big supplied trainer Bart Cummings with a second Melbourne Cup win in 1975. He jumped $34 in the 1975 Cup with top-weight, even though he had not won a race since the 1974 Melbourne Cup.
The 1969 winner, Tails, was the winner of six Group 1 races. He ran third in the 1971 Melbourne Cup after starting as the favourite. He beat Gunsynd in his last race to win the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He was the second-highest earner of all-time, behind only Tulloch. Of course, those money figures seem almost laughable by today’s purses.
His sire Dalray was the winner of the 1952 Melbourne Cup.
Baystone from 1958 was another of the racers to win the Hotham and the Melbourne Cup in the same year. He was a gelding that we found appealing for having made 86 jumps. He won two better races in 1956 with the AJC Summer Cup and the VATC Eclipse Stakes.
The next notable we encountered on the list of Hotham Handicap winners was Foxzami from 1949. When he won the 1949 Melbourne Cup, he gave a weight advantage of 5kg. to Hoyle and almost 6 kg. to Benvolo.
The 1944 winner, Sirius would win the 1944 Melbourne Cup, but we know little else about him, other than that after racing, he was a below average stud, at least in terms of quantity.
The other dual winner of the Hotham Handicap was Dark Felt in 1942 and 1943. His Melbourne Cup win came in 1943.
Little of Dark Felt’s racing record remains. Like Sirius, he was not the sire of anything truly notable.
White Nose was the winner of the Hotham and the Melbourne Cup in 1931.
His lines featured connections to Carbine and if there ever was a desirable sire of stayers, it was Carbine.
King Ingoda from 1922 won the Melbourne Cup. He had other wins in the South Australian St. Leger, the Williamstown Cup and the 1923 Adelaide Cup.
One final notable we feel the need to mention when we are looking at a staying race was an 1893 mare by New Zealand’s Carbine named Miss Carbine.
We did not expect to see 10 Hotham Handicap winners winning the Melbourne Cup in their next race. After racing Saturday, there were only two days to recover and part of a third on the day of the Melbourne Cup.
This was especially true in the cases of the most recent gallopers to notch the double, Shocking from 2009 and Brew from 2000.
The earlier horses to win both the Hotham Handicap and the Melbourne Cup were probably often raced without two weeks between jumps, but even in that age of more frequent jumps, it is still a remarkable feat to win with such a short rest in between.
Hotham Stakes Past Winners
|2018||A Prince Of Arran|
|1996||Few Are Chosen|
|1972||Scotch And Dry|
|1941||Son Of Aurous|
|1925||King Of Mirth|