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Qualifying for the Melbourne Cup is difficult, with so much prize money on offer and so many great horses wanting to compete. The qualification system is based on a handicap, with a minimum weight of 49 kilograms. While there is no official maximum weight for the Melbourne Cup, the highest allocated weight should not be less than 57 kilograms. The weight handicap is declared by the VRC Handicapper, with the weight of the jockey and riding gear adjusted to a nominated figure.

The allocated weights of nominated horses depend on the age of each horse and the previous results of horses in other relevant events. In essence, all competing horses are supposed to have an equal chance of winning the Melbourne Cup, with weights calculated prior to the event. In recent years, however, the conditions needed for equal winning opportunities have changed somewhat, the with event now more of a “quality handicap” race.

Under quality handicap conditions, a specific formula is used which allows superior horses to have less severe weight penalties than otherwise would be the case. While pure handicap rules can be strict with regard to how allocated weights are measured, quality handicap rules are much less severe. Weight penalties for specific events are also used after declaration, with the winner of any handicap flat race worth more than AU$55,000 or internationally recognised carrying additional weight for each win.

Making the cut for the Melbourne Cup is difficult in itself, with only the very best thoroughbreds allowed to compete for the prize money pool of $6 million. Between 300 to 400 horses nominate for the event each season, with the final field limited to just 24 horses. After the weights have been allocated, each horse owner must pay a series of entry and acceptance fees, including a $600 initial entry fee, $960 first acceptance, $1,450 second acceptance, $2,450 third acceptance, and $45,375 final acceptance on the Saturday prior to the big race.