Victorian government backflips on plan allowing 1,250 people at Cox Plate horse race after heavy backlash

Racing Minister Martin Pakula says the move was "a mistake" and apologised for "any upset" that had been caused.

Opie Bosson on Te Akau Shark rides in the first lap of the Cox Plate during Cox Plate Day at Moonee Valley Racecourse on 26 October, 2019 in Melbourne.

Opie Bosson on Te Akau Shark rides in the first lap of the Cox Plate during Cox Plate Day at Moonee Valley Racecourse on 26 October, 2019 in Melbourne. Source: Getty

The Victorian government has backflipped on a decision to allow more than a thousand people to be at the 100th running of Melbourne's Cox Plate horse race this weekend following a wave of backlash.

On Tuesday afternoon, the state government announced 500 owners and connections would be able to attend Moonee Valley for both Friday night's Manikato Stakes and Saturday's Cox Plate, in addition to the jockeys, operations staff, media and security officials.

A maximum of 1,250 people were to be allowed on the course at any one time.

Racing Minister Martin Pakula said the meetings would feature a range of COVID-safe arrangements including caps on numbers, staggered arrivals and temperature checks.

The announcement prompted a surge of criticism on social media, most of which cited Victoria's harsher coronavirus restrictions on funerals and family gatherings.

But late on Tuesday night, Mr Pakula said he had spoken to the Moonee Valley Racing Club and the decision had 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 tweeted.

"The decision to allow some owners on course for the 100th Cox Plate was motivated only by respect for the occasion & a desire to mark a small step on the path to reopening.

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

Ellen Sandell, acting leader of the state Greens, branded the original decision a kick in the guts to Victorians after months of being unable to see family, go to funerals, have visitors at the hospital or open their businesses.

"It seems to be one rule for them and another rule for the rest of Victoria," she said in a statement.

Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien questioned why that advice was now being "ignored" following the reversal.

"What a shocking pack of frauds," he tweeted.

Time limits were to be placed on how long owners could remain on course, food and beverage services were to be takeaway only, and owners and connections were to be kept away from mounting yards and horse stalls and required to social distance.

Prior to the government's backflip, Moonee Valley Racing Club chief executive Michael Browell said he was delighted to have some spectators on course for the milestone race.

"The 100th running of the Ladbrokes Cox Plate is a significant milestone in our club's history and to have owners on course to enjoy the race is a great result," he said in a statement.

"While it is disappointing that we can't welcome our members and the racing public this year, we look forward to putting on a great carnival that they will enjoy from their living rooms."

It comes as Premier Daniel Andrews said the state is well placed to bring forward the further rule easing slated for 2 November, which includes the reopening of retail and hospitality industries in Melbourne.

"It's very important that we see this thing off properly, so Sunday will be a day where we can have more to say," he said.

Additional reporting by AAP.

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Published 20 October 2020 at 7:30pm, updated 21 October 2020 at 5:29am
By SBS News