The Victoria Derby is the feature race on the opening day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington Racecourse as the very best three-year-old colts and geldings - and the occasional filly - attempt to capture the Classic.
Part of the Melbourne Spring Carnival
, the Group 1 takes place on a Saturday at the end of October or beginning or November (depending where the following Tuesday falls as the Melbourne Cup always takes place on the first Tuesday in November) to get Melbourne Cup week
The 2500m race, which has a prize fund of $1.5million, attracts the best staying performers of the three-year-old brigade clash under set-weight conditions.
From a vast amount of entries, the best 16 (plus four emergencies) will make the nominations field. Because of the competitiveness of the entries, entry is decided first on the winners of eligible races and then by prize money won over the past two seasons.
The Victoria Derby dates back to 1855 making it Australia's oldest race, and was run over 2400m for much of its history. But with the distance from the barriers to the first turn deemed too short, it was extended to 2500m in 1973 to ensure a fair start for all runners and meaning the gate draw did not hold the key to the result of the race.
Rose Of May won the first-ever Victoria Derby and he has been followed onto the roll our honour some real star names including the legendary Phar Lap, who won the race in 1929 and is regarded as the best horse to win the Victoria Derby having gone on to great acclaim.
Other winners of the Victoria Derby include Fireworks, who won the race twice before it became limited to three-year-olds only, Poseidon, another early winner in 1906, Tulloch, who took the race on his way to stardom in 1957, future Cox Plate
winners Dulcify (1978) and Red Anchor (1984), Elvstroem, who triumphed in 2003 before taking out the Caulfield Cup
the following year as a four-year-old, and 2006 winner Efficient, who went on to win the Melbourne Cup
the following year and become for the first horse since Phar Lap to win the Flemington race the year after winning the Victoria Derby.
There has been a drought for the fillies who were brave enough to take on the colts and geldings, with the last to achieve victory being Frances Tressaday back in 1923.
Among the key lead up races for the Victoria Derby is the AAMI Vase, a Group 2 race staged over 2040m a week earlier at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate Day. Raveneaux (1986), Blevic (1994), Helenus (2002), Plastered (2004) and Efficient (2006) are some of those to do the double with the latter proving to be a real star by landing the Melbourne Cup the following year. The race has proven to be the best guide to finding the winner of the Victoria Derby.
The Group 3 Norman Robinson Stakes, held at Caulfield, and the listed Cranbourne Cup both provide plenty of clues to the Victoria Derby each year, as do the Cox Plate, in which some three-year-olds will have clashed with the elders, the Caulfield Cup
or the Caulfield Guineas
The winner of the Victoria Derby is exempt from ballot for the Melbourne Cup if taking up the engagement three days later. Nothin' Leica Dane attempted to complete the double in 1995 only to be denied by Doriemus at Flemington as he came home in second place. Other runners will have a variety of potential targets on their agenda after running in the Victoria Derby. Any fillies deemed good enough to have taken on the colts and geldings will most likely appear again in the Crown Oaks
, the fillies only equivalent of the Victoria Derby which takes place five days later, while the three-year-old programme often sees horses bid for victory in the Sandown Classic
, Queen Elizabeth Stakes or Geelong Cup
. Alternatively, they may spell ahead of a busy summer and autumn campaign.