Will crowds be at Spring Racing Carnival feature days?

Will crowds be at Spring Racing Carnival feature days?

It is some time away still, but the question among racegoers and lovers of the big days of the Melbourne Spring Carnival is whether or not they can actually be present this year.

Thoughts of moving the Spring Carnival schedule around for 2020 have been shelved for the time being, one which could have seen the Caulfield Cup – one of the three jewels of the spring program – moved from October to the end of November.

While the dates of the 2020 Melbourne Spring Carnival, at this point at least, remain as we have come to expect, the prospect of no crowds, no packed grandstands, no huge cheers to welcome home the winner remains.

From early September and the Memsie Stakes at Caulfield through to the Melbourne Cup at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November, the traditional Spring Carnival schedule has been locked in. After all, owners and trainers of horses in Europe need plenty of time to plan raids on the Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup.

What can’t be locked in yet is dates on the calendars of racegoers themselves, or plans made with friends to be heading to Caulfield, Moonee Valley or Flemington for one of the big days.

While racing in Melbourne has continued during the coronavirus pandemic, crowds – and owners for the most part – have not been present on raceday. The action has taken place in front of empty grandstands and to little noise from inside the racetracks.

That could be set to change with the easing of the regulations from July when small crowds may be permitted to attend race meetings, with owners having already started to return at the end of June – albeit with strict protocols of when and where they can be while at the track.

Racing Victoria have set up a ‘The Returns to Crowds’ working group to formulate plans for how and when racegoers can become a firm part of the raceday experience once again. July is a hopeful guide that chief executive Giles Thompson suggested in a recent radio interview but otherwise it is a case of wait and see and cross the fingers that crowds are back for the main Spring action.

“One of our working groups is considering what we call ‘The Returns to Crowds’ and particularly the owners and members of race clubs and how do we get some of those back and ultimately all of them back that want to get back in?” Thompson said in the radio interview.

“The key, core part of that whole process is we’ve got to where we are today cause of the strict protocols we have around racing operation on the track. Anything we do from a crowd perspective has to protect that.

“We cannot put at risk those protocols so it’s really important to work with the clubs as we get people coming back to the course that are not necessarily essential to racing day in and day out.

“We’re on it. July sounds like a good time for that to begin to be happening but we’ve got a bit of work to do around the protocols around that and how you can separate the different groups on course.”

Time will tell if the Spring Carnival is to be watched live from the track, or on the TV at home…