When the Victoria Racing Club was formed in 1864, it made the inspired choice of Robert Bagot as its first Secretary. Bagot was to transform the fortunes of the Club, and to establish the Melbourne Cup as Australia's premier horserace.
Bagot was born in Ireland in 1828, migrated to Australia in the 1840s, and established himself as a surveyor and civil engineer in Melbourne. His survey of the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1861 gave the oval the shape and dimensions it has today.
When appointed to his VRC post, Bagot set about rejuvenating Flemington. He realised that if the club was to prosper, the racecourse must provide amenities and facilities that would attract the racing public. The lawn area was renovated and beautified, a new grandstand seating 4,000 people was erected and ladies were encouraged to attend race meetings. The track was thoroughly overhauled, new stables constructed and improved facilities for the stewards and the press were introduced.
Perhaps even more importantly, Bagot was successful in lobbying the Victorian Government in support of the Melbourne Cup. In 1866 the Government declared Cup day a half-holiday for public servants and bank employees. In 1875 the Melbourne Cup was run for a first time on a Tuesday. Until that time the only public holiday in November was for the Prince of Wales' birthday and the Cup was therefore run on that day. Soon thereafter the association with the Prince's birthday was dropped and the first Tuesday in November became a general public holiday.
The success of Bagot's administration was reflected in the enormous popularity that the Melbourne Cup quickly assumed. In 1865 the Cup attracted a crowd of 13,000. By 1873 this had risen to 63,000. And in 1880, 100,000 made the journey to Flemington.
Robert Bagot remained Secretary of the VRC until his death in 1881. His name is commemorated in the Handicap run each New Year's Day at Flemington.
Bagot was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.