Victoria’s Minister for Racing has backed down on a decision to allow owners and connections to attend the 100th running of the Cox Plate this weekend.
- 500 owners and connections were to be allowed to attend the Moonee Valley racecourse on Friday and Saturday
- Racing Minister Martin Pakula said he had heard community feedback and reversed the decision
- No decisions have been made about the Melbourne Cup on November 3
On Twitter, Martin Pakula said he had heard community feedback and spoken to the Moonee Valley Racing Club to reverse the decision.
The Moonee Valley Racing Club (MVRC) had struck a deal with the Victorian Government allowing up to 500 owners and connections to attend Friday night’s Manikato Stakes, and the same number for the Cox Plate meeting the following day.
In a statement, the Victorian Government said measures in the COVID-safe plan approved for the events included a cap on numbers, staggered arrivals, time limits and temperature checks.
In total, there would have been a maximum cap of 1,250 people on the course for each race meeting including jockeys, club operations staff, security, COVID-safe marshals and media.
“No more than 1,000 people will be permitted on course at any one time — in normal times, the venue can host 38,000 people,” the statement said.
However, just after 9:00pm AEDT, Mr Pakula said the decision was “a mistake, given that other restrictions remain in place, and we’ve heard the community feedback”.
“Tonight I’ve spoken to the Moonee Valley Racing Club and the decision’s been reversed. Owners won’t return to the race track until we reach the next stage of the easing of restrictions. I apologise for any upset that has been caused.”
He said the initial agreement had been motivated “only by respect for the occasion and a desire to mark a small step on the path to reopening”.
Politicians from all sides have slammed both the initial decision to allow connections to attend the event, and the subsequent reversal by the Racing Minister.
Federal Nationals senator, Matt Canavan, described the whole process as an “own goal” by the Victorian Government.
“It seems absurd that you can let a thousand people go to the races when you still can’t have more than 10 people at a funeral,” Mr Canavan told Channel Nine.
“We’ve seen that, right through this crisis, that people can cop restrictions, they can bunker down to try to tackle the virus but what they can’t cop is a double standard and this is a blatant one.”
Victorian Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick said he was “blindsided and shocked” by the initial decision to allow people to attend and welcomed the reversal by the Racing Minister.
“I’m dumbfounded as to why the decision was even considered in the first place,” he said.
“When such hardship has been experienced by small business owners the support should have been for restaurant owners, for cafe owners.”
“We support and respect the Government’s decision on this matter,” MVRC chief executive Michael Browell said on Twitter.
Officials had been resigned to having no crowds at races when in early September the Government announced its initial roadmap for easing restrictions, But subsequent changes to that plan opened the door for an agreement to be reached.
“Changes to directions from the Chief Health Officer that allow persons with a business need to attend race meetings mean that connections will be able to attend metropolitan tracks that have COVID-safe plans in place ongoing, under set conditions,” the statement said.
The statement went to say food and beverage service would be takeaway only and a limit on the length of time owners could attend on race days was still being finalised, the statement said.
Mr Browell had hailed the agreement as a “fantastic outcome” for the industry.
“There have been a few curve balls thrown our way throughout this whole process,” he said.
“We’ve worked diligently over the past week to 10 days to finalise these plans and to get the support from the Government and the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services).
Australia’s premier weight-for-age horse race has the added challenge of being scheduled on the same day as the AFL grand final this year.
“We can work hand in glove here. It can be complementary. We take the afternoon and then the night-time grand final,” Mr Browell said.
“We’re just glad that racing can take centre stage in an historic weekend of Australian sport.”
No deal has been reached for crowds to attend the Melbourne Cup at Flemington on November 3.