The last day of England’s Goodwood Races, affectionately known as ‘Glorious Goodwood’, was supposed to be the start of fans returning to sport in the UK.
- The last-minute decision to ban fans from attending a high-profile race in the UK is a cautionary tale for racing in Australia
- Moonee Valley Racing Club chief Michael Browell there is a “70 per cent chance” the Cox Plate will be held with no fans
- Racing Victoria is hopeful that if restrictions ease in September as planned, fans will be able to attend the Spring Carnival
The start of some kind of normal, after weeks of behind-closed-doors competition and even the unthinkable crowning of Liverpool as Premier League champions for the first time in 30 years without anyone there to see it. Goodwood was the start, a test organised as part of a government pilot program.
Just 5,000 members were supposed to attend the course on August 1. The race had been divided into zones, ensuring attendees couldn’t mix.
But the night before the event, spooked by a growing number of cases in the UK, the Government pulled the pin.
“It would probably have cost a six-figure sum to put on the event for Saturday, and sadly that wasn’t able to happen at the last minute due to a government change of plan,” Hermione Fitzgerald of OTI Racing said.
“For it to be stopped at the 11th hour was a real dent in everyone’s confidence moving forward — for all sports, not just racing.”
It also serves as a cautionary tale to racing administrators in Australia.
The race that made Winx famous, the Cox Plate, is celebrating the 100th running of the race. What was supposed to be a celebration of former champions in front of thousands of people will most likely happen without any crowds at all.
The Cox Plate is still more than two months away but Melbourne’s Stage 4 lockdown means administrators’ ambitions for crowds are modest.
“There’s a 70 per cent chance there will be no crowds, 25 per chance chance we could have up to 1,000 people and a slim chance we could have more than 1,000,” Michael Browell, chief executive of Moonee Valley Racing Club, said.
Browell is very aware of Goodwood’s experience and that the Government or COVID-19 could scupper any event plans at any time, even if Melbourne is in a better position by the time the Cox Plate is run on October 24.
Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 200 race meetings and 1,700 races in Victoria without a positive case in the industry — and, of course, without spectators.
“If we had a racing-related outbreak, say in the 24 hours beforehand, we’d have to postpone the Cox Plate — whether it’s 24 hours or 48 hours — but we would still run the event,” Browell said.
“We’re not really hung up on having crowds here. It would be a good outcome if we could have 1,000 or even up to 5,000 but our focus at the moment is just making sure we can deliver the event.”
Racing Victoria is hopeful that if Stage 4 restrictions ease as planned in September, the Spring Carnival might have a chance of welcoming patrons to the only sport in Victoria that has continued throughout the crisis.
“We have no idea what the world looks like in two months’ time in the middle of Spring,” Racing Victoria chief executive Giles Thompson said.
“We remain optimistic, we’re planning for the best and we’re planning for the worst.”
Victorian sporting fans, starved of any live sporting events to attend, are hoping for the former.
“We do need to keep things in perspective here. There’s a much bigger issue that Victorians are dealing with other than crowds attending race meetings,” Browell said.
Indeed there is, but the prospect of live sport to watch — not just on TV — is a tantalising hope.