The Victorian state government has backflipped on a decision to allow up to 500 owners and connections to runners in the upcoming Cox Plate despite ongoing coronavirus restrictions in Melbourne, after massive public backlash.
Despite Melburnians being warned not to host parties for this weekend’s AFL Grand Final and businesses still unable to open, the state government said it would allow owners and connections to attend the 100th running of the Cox Plate, as well as Friday night’s Manikato Stakes meet.
REST IN PEACE: Shock over champion jockey's death at 43
The announcement from racing minister Martin Pakula on Tuesday afternoon meant up to 1000 people would have been admitted into Mooney Valley racecourse, which usually holds up to 38,000.
Mr Pakula justified the decision, saying it had been made under the advice of the Chief Health Officer, there were to be strict conditions of entry such as passing a temperature check, and owners would only be allowed to attend the track for a limited time.
Despite this, the Minister reversed the decision late on Tuesday night, admitting it was ‘a mistake’ to allow owners and connections to gather while the rest of the city was subject to harsh limits.
“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,” Mr Pakula wrote on Twitter.
“It 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.”
Furious response to Cox Plate decision
Many Victorians took to social media to savage the decision, with Greens city councillor Rohan Leppert labelling the move one born of ‘staggering hypocrisy’.
“Oh look the Racing Minister Martin Pakula is bending over backwards justifying the staggering hypocrisy of holding the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley for 1,000 people while the rest of metro Melbourne is locked down,” he wrote.
There was plenty more similar criticism to follow as angry Victorians unleashed on the decision.
TV presenter George Love labelled it ‘utterly disgraceful’.
“This is utterly disgraceful. 10 people at a funeral but 1000 people on a race track,” she wrote.
“The people making these decisions should be ashamed.”
Who’s the genius who approved horse ‘connections’ being allowed the the Cox Plate? You’ve got to be joking.
— Drew Jones (@DrewJonesFOX) October 20, 2020
— Richard Impiombato (@R_Impiombato) October 20, 2020
Cox plate just latest example of how everything that was awful about the pandemic for you and your loved ones has been barely felt at all by rich people
— Ben M (@Ben_Mc1) October 20, 2020
My "Free Flemington" T-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt.
— Steve Smith (@stevesmithffx) October 20, 2020
Oh look the Racing Minister @MartinPakulaMP is bending over backwards justifying the staggering hypocrisy of holding the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley for 1,000 people while the rest of metro Melbourne is locked down. Now why would he do that...?https://t.co/HFuZWk1fxN
— Rohan Leppert (@RohanLeppert) October 20, 2020
I genuinely don't understand how whoever approved the Cox Plate thing wouldn't have anticipated a response of utter *rage*. Absolute political malfeasance. The rest of Melbourne is subject to such harsh restrictions and sure 1000 rich pricks can go to a horse race. Stupid
— Anthony B, (@swearyanthony) October 20, 2020
The decision to allow a paltry number of owners to Cox Plate day, ranks right up there with knighting Prince Philip, for outright stupidity and a total disconnect from what the public will say. A total PR disaster, when racing was doing so well and fuel for “Nup to the Cup,” team
— Peter Lawrence (@PeterLawrence18) October 20, 2020
Earlier in the day Mr Pakula said the presence of owners at the Cox Plate and Manikato Stakes would be closely monitored.
“This will give connections the chance to see their horses compete under strict health protocols,” he said.
“The change has been closely considered by health officials, who will monitor the implementation of the plan to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.
“I know that connections will follow the lead of jockeys, trainers and stable workers and follow all protocols to the letter.”
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.