Sport Racing Community backlash ends Victorian government plans for Cox Plate spectators
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Community backlash ends Victorian government plans for Cox Plate spectators

Damien Lane races Lys Gracieux to the line in the 2019 Cox Plate. Photo: Getty
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It’s the deadly illness that stopped a nation.

But coronavirus wasn’t going to stop the Victorian government allowing racehorse owners to gather for the Cox Plate.

Racing Minister Martin Pakula confirmed on Tuesday that an extra 500 people would be able to attend Moonee Valley for Friday night’s Manikato Stakes and Saturday’s Cox Plate. That would have meant that up to 1250 patrons and staff would have gathered for the events.

Five hours later, Mr Pakula was forced to issue a mea culpa after widespread public backlash.

Critics had been quick to point out that ongoing coronavirus restrictions have stopped them from arguably more important activities like funerals, weddings or visits to dying loved ones.

Michael Browell, chief executive of the Moonee Valley Racing Club, said on Wednesday morning the club was disappointed by the Victorian government’s change of heart. 

Ultimately it would have to “accept the umpire’s decision on this one”, Mr Browell said, adding that “in light of the feedback received from the broader community we can understand, and we respect the decision”.

“We do appreciate the community is under very tough restrictions,” he said.

Racing Minister Mr Pakula initially defended the decision to let a select group of spectators in for the event.

“Some context,” he wrote on Twitter. “Of the 1000 people on course, 750 are there anyway – jockeys, trainers, barrier attendants, farriers, strappers & media.

“Of the rest, there’s no members, no fans, no bookies and the tote will be closed. Owners will come, watch the horse they own run, and leave.”

But it didn’t pass the pub test. Victorians took to social media to point out that there appeared to be different public health laws for the wealthy.

“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.”

COVIDSafe arrangements including a 1000-person course cap, staggered arrivals, temperature checks, social distancing and takeaway only food and beverage services had been planned.

Mr Pakula said the move had been motivated by respect for the occasion and a desire to mark a small step in Melbourne’s path to reopening.

“It was a mistake, given that other restrictions remain in place, and we’ve heard the community feedback,” he said.

Melbourne footy fans are also unable to have friends and family over to their houses for the AFL and NRL grand finals on Saturday and Sunday.

Premier Daniel Andrews has indicated Victoria is well placed to bring forward the further rule easing slated for November 2 to this Monday, after this weekend’s major sports and racing events.

-with AAP