Covid’s ongoing impact on country racing

The sport of racing has taken on a vastly different look over recent months, with Covid-19 restrictions limiting who can come to the track. This shot was taken of the mounting yard on Cranbourne Cup day last year. 198932 Picture: ROB CAREW

The ongoing fight against the Covid-19 pandemic continues to significantly impact the sporting landscape, with a series of country race meetings scheduled for later this year cancelled.

All picnic race meetings from the scheduled start of the 2020/21 picnic racing season on Saturday, 24 October up to and including Saturday, 7 November have been called off – directly impacting meetings at tracks including Cranbourne.

All non-TAB meetings on Melbourne Cup Day (Tuesday, 3 November) – those at Cranbourne, Bairnsdale, Wangaratta, and Mildura – have been cancelled, leaving Flemington and the TAB meeting at Echuca as the only two Victorian race meetings to be held on Cup Day.

Racing Victoria made the decision in consultation with Country Racing Victoria, and the country clubs involved.

This announcement follows last month’s decision to cancel the Gunbower Cup meeting on 3 October, the Manangatang Cup meeting on 10 October, and the Wodonga meeting on 17 October due to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.

Racing Victoria’s Racing Operations team will continue to review the racing program through late October and early November to see if there are any additional changes needed for horses impacted by the cancellation of community race days during that period.

“Following consultation with Country Racing Victoria and various Victorian race clubs, we have made the difficult decision to remove a further nine meetings from the country racing calendar throughout October and early November,” said Racing Victoria’s executive general manager of racing, Greg Carpenter.

“The decision to cancel these race meetings has been reached following extensive consultation, and has been based on a number of factors including the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I would like to thank the clubs affected for their cooperation and understanding regarding this decision, which we appreciate would be extremely disappointing for not only the clubs, but their extended communities.”

Scott Whiteman, Country Racing Victoria’s chief executive, added: “The various clubs impacted by these cancellations have been involved in reaching this decision and I would like to thank them for their support and cooperation throughout this process.

“While it is a difficult decision to make, it’s the right outcome for those regional communities, and we all look forward to seeing these iconic country meetings return in 2021.”

In other racing news, defending Melbourne Cup champion, Danny O’Brien’s Vow And Declare, has been allotted 57 kilograms to be the equal second-highest weighted horse in this year’s field, along with 2019 Irish Derby winner Sovereign, and Godolphin’s three-time Group 1 winner, Avilius.

With 58.5 kilograms, last year’s Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck is the sole top-weight for the 160th running of the Melbourne Cup.

“There is always great interest in what weight is given to the defending Melbourne Cup champion, and this year that is Vow And Declare – who rises to 57kg, having won the race with 52kg last year for Australia with (champion Cranbourne hoop) Craig Williams in the saddle for Danny O’Brien,” Carpenter said.

“The five-kilogram increase for Vow And Declare represents a 1.5kg increase in his weight-for-age benchmark moving to five years of age, and a 3.5kg penalty for his 2019 win.

“That’s the same penalty that was afforded to Cross Counter, Prince of Penzance, Green Moon, Dunaden and Americain for their title defences over the past decade.”

The Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young-trained Mirage Dancer (out of Cranbourne) – which finished third behind Japanese stayer Mer de Glace and Vow And Declare in the 2019 Caulfield Cup – drops a kilogram from last year’s performance to 55kg.