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Will there be spectators at the 2020 Melbourne Cup?

The Melbourne Cup is not only Australia’s most famous horse racing event, but also one of the biggest and most popular across the world. The Race That Stops a Nation, as it is known, draws around 100,000 visitors to Flemington Racecourse on the first Tuesday of November, but will things be vastly different in 2020?

With Melbourne residents under strict lockdown restrictions heading into the start of spring, not to mention the AFL Finals set to be played outside of Victoria for the first time in the history of the sport, the Spring Racing Carnival will get underway without crowds at the early group one races such as the Memsie Stakes and Makybe Diva Stakes.

While there is still hope that a relaxation of the rules may be introduced after mid-September, what that means for the major races at the Spring Carnival remains to be seen. The one thing likely, however, is that Melbourne Cup Day will look a whole lot different this year.

The big three races of the Spring Carnival were expected, as any other year, to draw huge crowds to Melbourne. Firstly the Caulfield Cup on October 17, then the Cox Plate on October 24 and into the Melbourne Cup Carnival between October 31 and November 7.

It is traditionally boom time for hotels, businesses and travel companies in Melbourne. It is the time of year when hotels, airlines, train companies, Ubers and even Air BnB bookings do their briskest and most rewarding trade. But in a year when social distancing became the buzz word, it looks increasingly likely that the Spring Carnival majors will have small crowds at best.

Racing Victoria continues to race, given the go ahead by the Victorian government to do so with over 110,000 people employed in an industry that generates over $3.2 billion economic activity within the state. But owners – having previously been allowed back on track on racedays – are now banned once again, with only key stable staff or trainers permitted to attend along with raceday officials.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to take decisive action to ensure that we provide the safest environment possible for those participating in Victorian racing, as well as the wider community,” said Racing Victoria chief executive Giles Thompson.

“We don’t take the right to continue racing during these unprecedented times lightly and are extremely grateful for the opportunity to maintain jobs and continue supporting the 110,000 people who are employed or participating in Victorian thoroughbred racing.”

Quite rightly taking things as seriously as they should be taken, as each week passes it looks increasingly unlikely that the winners of the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate or Melbourne Cup will be witnessed first-hand by the types of sold-out crowds we have come to expect.

That is a huge blow to the travel and tourism industry in Melbourne, an industry that has already suffered quite dramatically. These are strange time we are living in and the Spring Carnival looks set to add another chapter to the whole story.

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